Saturday 10th May, 1997 Sydney to Singapore to Bangkok
We said our good-byes to Angie, Lauren, Benny and Layla. This was our first holiday away from our babies but I think they were looking forward to having the house to themselves – party time, obviously. We drove out to Mark’s mum and dad’s and then my mum and dad’s for more good-byes. At last we set off about 11am in our hired rice-bubble of a car for Sydney airport. We booked in on time to get good window seats on the plane – always try to get the last few rows, which have only two seats instead of three. This gives us more room and we don’t have to bother squeezing past someone else to get to the loo. We were really pleased with ourselves for getting through our first solo airport experience so easily.
The weather was cold, rainy and windy – a great day to be leaving Australia for hot sunny Thailand. The take-off was rough and we had turbulence for half an hour into the flight. I’m glad it hadn’t been like this for Angie and Lauren’s first flight when we took them to Bali last year. We were really impressed with Qantas except for a grouchy airhostess. There were six smelly Moslems in long white robes and caps sitting near us. Twice during the flight they prayed on mats at the back of the plane – don’t know how they knew which direction Mecca was.
We finally landed in the dark at Singapore’s Changi Airport eight hours after leaving Sydney. This part of the flight had gone fast with a movie and in-flight television and a great captain. He turned the plane on its side as we passed over Alice Springs so we could get a good view. We were delayed for an hour and a half in Singapore but this was fine as the airport is so huge and beautiful with flowering orchids and fountains – puts Sydney to shame. No smoking except in the Smoking Room which was quite a degrading experience really. You enter a glass box inside the airport and sit there fagging away with all the other losers all on show to the healthy, sensible people outside. The air is white with smoke and I was happy to find a door to an outside verandah. Much better out here and I was so excited to feel how hot it was outside.
It was only two hours flying from Singapore to Bangkok. It was now 1am Thai time and twelve hours after leaving Sydney. Bangkok’s Don Muang airport was quiet at this time of night so we passed through customs quickly. We’d arranged transfers with Intrepid and so we expected to be picked up by a tour agent. Instead we were met by a young girl and guy in a smelly old brown car with no seatbelts and plastic flowers hanging off the rear vision mirror. What a great surprise and why we love Asia so much. We drove at top speed to get to the hotel in forty minutes. There were so many freeways, which was quite a shock but once we left them we began to see the real Bangkok. Our hotel is in a great area and we can’t wait until tomorrow to get out there. The Viengtai Hotel is also not what we had been led to believe and is a grubby multistory old building with smelly rooms – also loved it. Finally got to bed at 2.30 am.
Sunday 11th May, 1997 Bangkok
We woke at about 6.30 am and couldn’t wait to get out into the streets. We walked up our hotel street called Tanee Road and watched people cooking and eating at tiny tables and chairs on the footpath. Everything is so different to home – the heat, the noises and the smells of cooking and sewage mixed together. We found that Khao San Road was only the next street parallel to ours. This is the famous backpacker area of Bangkok. It’s lined with markets, cheap guesthouses and cafes all playing loud music and packed with backpackers from all over the world. Here we had a lovely breakfast in an open-air café that was blaring out music even at this hour. We bought some bottled water and walked over to Wat Bovorinet where we were shown around by a young Thai boy. This was our first temple and we were quite impressed but it was rather small compared to others we were yet to see.
We were tiring by now so we walked back to the hotel for a couple of hours sleep – jet lag combined with the heat is a killer. It was only midday when we woke so we set off again, this time in search of the Chao Praya River. Bangkok traffic is notoriously bad and it took us ages to cross some of the busy streets – no pedestrian crossings that we could see, you just seem to go for it. It was so hot and we walked for ages in the sun without finding the river – next time we travel we’ll definitely be buying a Lonely Planet. Hopped into a tuktuk which are tiny three-wheeled open-air vehicles that sound like lawn mowers and which can zip in and out of traffic like motorbikes. They’re wonderful for short distances and to get a breeze in hot weather. We were dropped off at the Memorial Bridge which was the beginning of a walking tour of Thonburi that we’d read about in an old guidebook on Bangkok. Thonburi is on the opposite side of the Chao Praya River to Bangkok and is the site of the original capital. It is a maze of canals or klongs as they’re called.
After crossing the bridge, we found Wat Prayon that contained a small grotto called Turtle Mount, which is filled with shrines and stupas rising up out of a pond. We bought plates of chopped meat and papaya and sat on the edge of the pond to feed the hundreds of little turtles that live in it. It was so lovely and peaceful in here with Thai people lying around the pond on raised pagodas – shoes off, of course. Our next stop was the Portuguese area and the Church of Santa Cruz and then on to Wat Kalaya Namit. We seemed to have lost our way but finally came to the klong area where people recycle cooking oil cans. There were a lot of people sitting around in these narrow alleyways and smiling and friendly as usual. We found the river at last and caught a ferry which we thought would take us up-river where we were hoping to find a restaurant we’d read about. Unfortunately, the ferry took us across the river then back again to Thonburi where we were dragged off by the driver who was going home! We got on another ferry which took us across to the Bangkok side once again until a young Thai girl could see we were dumb foreigners and told us that the ferries from these wharves just go back and forth all day. We gave up trying to get a ferry up-river, so we walked through the market area to find a tuktuk.
A young Thai student stopped us as he said he wanted to practice his English. He then mentioned a fantastic place selling cheap jewelry and it was the very last day we could buy it and we must hurry! He shoved us in a tuktuk and off we went like dumb farangs again. Naturally is was a scam and the gem shop was so expensive and probably fakes – we’d already been warned by Intrepid and all the guidebooks and we weren’t even interested in the first place – so why did we let ourselves get taken in, we ask ourselves. We only stayed long enough to be polite then had our tuktuk driver take us to the marble temple at Wat Traimit to see the Temple of the Golden Buddha. The grounds here were lovely and we walked around the monks quarters and then had a peaceful sit in front of the Golden Buddha. Another man outside befriended us and tried again to talk us into going to another gem shop – not so dumb this time!
Jetlag was catching up on us again, so we had an early dinner in Tanee Road and had three hours sleep in our air-conditioned room. We’d set the alarm for 9.30pm and dragged ourselves off in a taxi to Patpong Road. Instead the driver took us down a grotty alley to a dingy looking place where we were asked to pay 400baht (AUS$20) each to get in. The people looked pretty scary but we said ‘no thanks’ and headed off back towards the road not knowing where the hell we were. It must have been in the business section of the city because it was totally deserted at night. Suddenly our taxi appeared again with the driver calling out to us and promising this time to take us to Patpong Road. He’d probably get a commission if we’d actually gone into this horrible out of the way club.
We finally arrived at the very glitzy street of Patpong. It is lined with bars and flashing neon lights with a busy night market down the centre. The street was packed and noisy and we were continually hassled by young men to go into their particular bar. Each one carries type-written cards with English explanations of what goes on inside. We saw most of this; girl smoking cigarettes, bursting balloons with blow darts, blowing out candles, blowing trumpet, picking up cigarettes with chopsticks, shooting out bananas. A couple of hours was enough to see these poor bored young girls do their stuff for sleazy white foreigners who probably use them as prostitutes as well. Glad to find a tuktuk and get back to bed by 12.30pm.
Monday 12th May, 1997 Bangkok
A beautiful clear blue sky again today and hot already at 7am. We had breakfast at the same outdoor café in Tanee Road where we’d eaten dinner last night. From Khao San Road we caught a tuktuk to Chinatown to begin our second walking tour. It was an interesting ride through the streets and over a bridge spanning a small klong near the railway station. We drove along backstreets full of life – lots of food stuffs and furniture being made. In the main street of Chinatown we were stopped by a well dressed Thai man who sent us off in a tuktuk to some wonderful markets that would be closing soon. Not again! We were taken to another gem shop! We really are the dumbest travellers! Back in the tuktuk we choked on traffic fumes all the way back to Chinatown.
At last we could begin our walking tour. We walked through the maze of tiny alleyways called sois which are lined on both sides with food stalls and funerary supplies. These funerary shops sell paper replicas of things to be cremated with the body which they believe will be taken with them into the next life – motorcars, televisions, mobile phones, etc. (just what you need in heaven – I don’t think!) The sois are amazing with so many different foods to look at and strange smells and people calling out to each other. No farangs here but us which made it even better. Monks were walking around in their orange robes and nuns with shaved heads wearing white robes.
We veered off into even smaller alleyways where people were preparing all sorts of meat and seafood. Women were shelling huge baskets of prawns and chopping up carcasses of meat. Back out onto a wider street we found a Chinese Buddhist temple called Neng Noi Yee. Here a constant stream of people of all ages came to pray and burn handfuls of incense sticks. It was so hard to breathe with all the burning oil and incense. We’d never seen anything like this and could have stayed for ages but we weren’t sure if it was polite to watch these religious rituals.
After the temple we walked for an hour through another maze of crowded sois which sold fabrics, bric-a-brac and just a whole lot of junk really. This was a total waste of time and we were so glad to make our way out to the main road. We bought meat on skewers from a street cart and hailed another tuktuk to take us to Wat Pho, home of the gigantic Reclining Buddha. The temple grounds are huge and we could look into the monks quarters. The main building houses the reclining Buddha which is covered in gold leaf and an amazing 46 metres long and 15 metres high. The main attraction for us is the massage school in the grounds of the wat. For a couple of dollars we both had a half-hour Thai massage which is definitely long enough. This is no gentle massage like those on the beach in Bali. A Thai massage is eventful to say the least. It involves a lot of pushing and pulling and gauging with elbows and knees and then finished off by being walked on! This can be understandingly painful but a great experience especially in the wonderful setting. The school is set in lovely airy rooms open on three sides and cooled by overhead fans. The masseurs all wear bright yellow pyjamas and the ‘victims’ lie on mattresses on raised wooden platforms.
Feeling really high from our massage we tuktuked it back to Khao San Road for food and shopping. We had dinner at our favourite café – great food and atmosphere sitting under vines and hanging Chinese lanterns on the busy street. Afterwards, more shopping and an early night.
Tuesday 13th May, 1997 Bangkok to Chiang Mai
We had an early breakfast in Khao San Road and then met Naomi, our leader, and the Intrepid group at 10 o’clock. Naomi is probably in her late twenties, really well travelled and very athletic looking. She seems very nice and explained to us the Intrepid way of travelling (green and eco-friendly) and our itinerary. We are twelve in all – Mark and I, Bridget from England, Enda from Ireland and the rest Aussies – Vanessa and Sally from Melbourne, Karne and his father Ross from Perth, Robyn and her boyfriend Warren from Perth and Carole and Suzie from Brisbane.
We all stored our gear in a dayroom at the Viengtai Hotel and walked through some lovely leafy laneways lined with cafes and guesthouses to the Chao Praya River. We boarded a long-tail boat and set off for the klongs of Thonburi. A woman passing in a small boat sold us bread which we fed to the thousands of fish at Fish Temple – huge ugly catfish looking creatures. It is amazing to see how the people live along the klongs in houses crowded up to the riverbanks and many actually built over the river. Some were living in sampans and houseboats but all had a wave and a smile as we went past. So cool out here on the river and great to get away from the heat.
After an hour we jumped off at a pier near The Grand Palace. Mark bought some street food – lovely chicken kebabs – and we all shared some bananas that Ross had bought near the river. At the Grand Palace we were met by a sweet little Thai lady who was to be our guide. She was so proud of the palace and kept stopping for us to take photos of things we didn’t want to photograph. There are strange dress rules at the Palace as we had to wear long pants or long skirts but no sarongs – they even checked to see that my skirt wasn’t tied at the waist. Our shoulders and the backs of our heels also had to be covered. It was unbearably hot in here and it was so nice and cool to sit on the floor of the temple of the Emerald Buddha. This is the most sacred buddha in Thailand but is surprisingly small. More rules here – we mustn’t sit with soles of our feet pointing at the buddha – or any buddha for that matter or any Buddhist for that matter. The feet are considered dirty so it’s an insult to point them at someone just as it’s an insult to touch someone on the top of the head which is considered the most spiritual part of the body – will get the hang of it, no doubt.
Still inside the grounds of the Palace, we walked past a small temple literally packed with monks in orange robes who were blessing water which they then brought out to us. We all had to kneel down and it was sprinkled over our heads for good luck – what a bonus to have this unique experience!
Tuktuks, then, back to the hotel and we all went our separate ways for the rest of the afternoon. Mark and I had lunch on the verandah of a lovely old colonial-style guesthouse near the river – called Sawasdee Guesthouse. The food was so good but hot, hot! Some sort of beef dish with whole red chilies and seeds. Mark loved it so much he ordered more to take on the overnight train.
We met again at the hotel and piled our backpacks and ourselves into tuktuks for the Hualamphong railway station. This is huge with a massive coloured glass window at one end. Hundreds of people were waiting for trains and added to the excitement. We bought junk food for the train which left at 6pm. Mark was feeling sick with a head cold but we managed to enjoy ourselves with a few bourbons and bacardis. We had dinner on the train and ordered plates of pineapple and watermelon. We took about an hour to pass through Bangkok and then the old capital of Ayuthaya before dark. As we left the cities we could see farmers working in the fields and a beautiful sunset across the rice paddies.
Police boarded the train several times – suppose they were looking for drugs. Porters came and made up our beds as we needed them – bunks top and bottom with clean white sheets and pillows and curtained off from the long carriage. We went to bed about 10pm. I slept badly on the top bunk (kept thinking I was going to fall out) and Mark didn’t sleep at all on the bottom bunk (sick and just too big for the bed).
Wednesday 14th May, 1997 Chiang Mai to Tham Lod village
At six o’clock in the morning I climbed down into Mark’s bunk and we watched the scenery together as we came into Chiang Mai at 7.10am. Outside the station we all threw our gear into the back of a songthaew – like a truck with a roof, open sides and wooden bench seats facing each other. This was to be the first of so many on this trip.
We drove to the bus station where we all had a really cheap breakfast at a grubby little café opposite – still liked it, though. We all had to stand when the National Anthem was played over loud speakers – the Thais are very devoted to their king. The toilets here were our first experience of the squat type – takes a bit of getting used to. At 8.30am we left in a local bus headed for Sappong. It had very narrow seats and only fan-cooled but this was better than air-conditioning as we later needed the open windows for other purposes. Deafening Thai music entertained us the whole way. The bus was full of Thais and hilltribe people and the road was unbelievably steep and winding for four and a half hours. Mark wasn’t feeling well at all and we both had to try to watch the road to stop getting motion sick.
We stopped at two police checkpoints where they boarded the bus to look for illegal Burmese immigrants – one man was taken off the bus. We stopped a roadside café after about two hours and finally arrived at the small town of Pai at one o’clock. We bought drinks in plastic bags and set off again for Sappong. The bus was now packed with hilltribe people in traditional dress and we had to share seats. Before we left Pai, we wondered why the driver had put plastic bags in the roof right along the aisles. As soon as we started around the mountains again we found out why. Apparently hilltribe people have trouble travelling and were grabbing the bags to vomit into. Eleven people were sick on the one and a half hours to Sappong. Spew bags were flying past us out of the open windows and exploding on the road – wonderful! So glad we all made it without being sick ourselves.
At Sappong we were met by the women of the Lisu hilltribe in traditional dress in black, bright pink and yellow. They all had red teeth from chewing betel nut and they were so friendly giving us their huge red smiles. We all bought their embroidered, multi-coloured water bottle carriers which were to be invaluable.
Naomi then found a songthaew to take us to Cave Lodge only half an hour away. This is situated on the outskirts of a small village of grass huts called Tham Lod. The main area of the lodge is incredible with lots of cushions and low tables and hilltribe wall hangings.
It’s open on three sides and looks over a small valley overgrown with bamboo and bougainvillea. The verandah was taken over by the Lisu women who spread out their beautiful embroidery on the floor. Mark and I had a hut to ourselves because Mark was sick but we still shared cold showers and squat toilets with the others.
After settling in we all walked to Tham Lod Caves about half an hour through the village. There was thick green vegetation around the entrance to the cave, which had a small stream running through it. There were three caves in all full of stalagmites and stalactites, ancient coffins, prehistoric paintings and lots of steep bamboo ladders. There is no way I would normally have attempted to climb these but there was no choice really and you can’t look a total wimp in front of the others. I’m so glad I did as it was such fun. The cave was lovely and cool inside but was very smelly due to the millions of bats which inhabit it. Three Thai ladies carrying old kerosene lanterns guided us through the caves. The lamps gave a very eerie light and added to the wonderful atmosphere. After an hour of climbing we were led down to a stream deep within one of the caves. Here we all jumped onto bamboo rafts and now were led by some Thai men, very colourful in patterned headscarves. We came out at last through the huge mouth of the cave to the lovely greenery outside. What a great adventure and to think that I was going to stay behind at the lodge and rest!
Back to Cave Lodge and back to the heat. After very welcome cold showers we all had a banquet of different Thai dishes for dinner. We all sat together on cushions on the floor and ate at a low wooden table while Naomi explained the plans for the trek tomorrow.
Such a great atmosphere here, with other backpackers lounging around and great old ’60’s music playing. After dinner we all had an early night. Mark and I both slept well in our own little grass hut under a mosquito net – what luxury!!
Thursday 15th May,1997 First Day of Trek
The sun woke us early and after cold showers Mark and I sat on the verandah of our hut. So lovely sitting in the sun looking over the jungle of bamboo before us. We all had fruit for breakfast and sat around on the big balcony where the Lisu women had spread out their weavings again. It seemed like paradise looking at the beautiful brightly coloured hilltribe women and the brilliant greenery and flowers around the balcony.
It was time to get ready for the trek. Mark was fit and not worried but I wasn’t fit and very worried. We all packed our big backpacks away in a storage room and strapped our sleeping mats to our day-packs. Mark carried my big pack, two mats, six bottles of water and all our clothes – my darling! I only had a small day-pack and two bottles of water but I was still worried about making the trek. Naomi introduced us to Miss Doi, our guide, and we all set off at 9am.
At first we walked next to a lovely stream where water buffalo were drinking and pigs were running past. We’d picked up our two other guides by now – Puck and Charlie. We always had a guide at the front, back and middle of our group for the whole trek – good safety precautions.
The walking wasn’t steep at first but we literally crossed the river about fifty times during the day. The pace was quite fast and it was unbelievably hot by now. It wasn’t too bad, though, as we stopped every hour for a break or to lie fully clothed in the river – boots and all.
Lunch was simple but tasted great – rice wrapped in elephant leaves next to a shady stream. Puck fished with a stick while Doi and Charlie smoked bongs! We kept close to the stream again after lunch until we started the incredibly steep climb to the village.
Mark and I stayed back with Carole who was doing it tough. She is a rather large person who smokes (as I do) and is unfit (as I am). This was good as it didn’t make me look as bad. We had lots of laughs with her and Doi didn’t mind the slow pace either. At last we could hear sounds of farm animals and we soon arrived at the Lahu hilltribe village. The Lahu villagers slash and burn so the area is pretty barren. The village itself was bare of grass or greenery and a bit ugly but the real thing. The huts are built on stilts on the side of a hill so the view was quite beautiful. There were lots of animals around and under the huts – pigs, dogs, chooks, roosters everywhere and making untold noise.
We dumped our gear in a hut that had been vacated for the night by the family who live there. It was so bare inside and it is hard to believe that they have so little. There was no furniture at all and only a fire for cooking in one corner. There were no rivers here so we had to pour water over ourselves from a dish but it felt great anyway. We were all so hot we just lay on the floor of the hut and I fell asleep before I knew it. I woke to find a fire roaring away next to me heating up a big cast iron pot full of water. I didn’t need to be any hotter so I sat outside with Mark and the others. The men tried to catch the cute piglets but it was Bridget who caught the only one. She is such a fun person and I think I like her the best.
At dusk we walked to the top of the village and watched the women sitting on the floor of their verandahs preparing their evening meals. They were also chopping huge trunks of banana trees for pig food.
The village kids hung around us and showed off – some of them cute but others so streetwise. It was a great view from the top of the village and we all took photos of the beautiful sunset.
Back at the hut, we watched Doi and Puck prepare vegetables for our meal, which they cooked over the open fire. Dinner was vegetables, rice, of course, and chicken – tasted nice but a bit smoky. We went to bed early I think – hard to tell as we aren’t allowed to wear watches on the trek. We were all kept awake by chooks under the hut and roosters crowing all night.
Friday 16th May, 1997 Second Day of Trek
It must have been about 7am when we woke although no-one had slept well because of all the animal noise. Mark was still sick with his cold but maybe feeling a bit better – he never complains. We watched Doi cook breakfast over the open fire again – vegetables and rice – and then she cooked lunch of chicken, vegetables and rice – what variety! She wrapped lunch in banana leaves that she tore into little squares and tied with string.
After breakfast we packed our gear and set off through the village. The whole day’s walk was up and down steep hills and along narrow ridges. We stopped at a village where the people were really friendly and showed Karne how to shoot a rifle. We walked through a deserted village and just kept going up and up. Carole and I were walking slower than the rest but I felt amazingly better than I ever expected. Never thought I’d be able to walk for so far or for so long especially in this heat. I think I could have walked even further. Mark and Doi stayed back with us and poor Mark was by now carrying both his big pack and Carole’s pack as well.
The pace was fast considering the heat and the steep hills. We stopped for lunch at the top of a ridge but most of us were too hot to eat. The guides smoked bongs again and we set off after a rest in the shade. So hot and no rivers today to cool us down. After more ridges we had a really steep and slippery descent into a lovely green valley. It was a scary climb down and we were all amazed to make it without falling. It was worth it, though, as it was green and cool at the bottom and, best of all, there were the elephants! There were three down here among the bamboo where they were being watched over by men from the Karen hilltribe, all dressed in their traditional red woven tops.
Mark and I, Robin, Ross, Suzie and Carole climbed onto the elephants by stepping on their heads from a huge fallen log. The others walked to the Karen village about an hour away. We had an incredibly uncomfortable ride sitting in the baskets tied to the elephants’ backs – worth every second, though, to think that we were actually riding an elephant in the hills of Thailand! We passed along the narrowest pathways through the thick jungle and up steep inclines – never realised how agile elephants are. It was a slow ride as the elephants continually stopped to pull at the bamboo and eat it. The elephant drivers sat on the elephant’s heads and made grunting noises to give them orders to move branches on the path with their trunks.
We came at last to the Karen village – very different from the barren Lahu village. Very beautiful and green here with lots of crops growing around the village and fruit trees around the grass huts. Each hut was raised above the ground and each had its own yard enclosed by bamboo fences. The Karen people look beautiful in their red and black embroidered clothing that they weave themselves. The elephants took us right up to the hut where we were to sleep for the night.
After settling in to own new hut, we all walked through the village to the river about twenty minutes away. We passed the school and waved to the village kids who were hanging out of the windows and we passed rice paddies in the valley below. Mark and the others walked on to the cave while Ross, Carole and I decided we lay in the river for an hour. So lovely to be cool and be surrounded by the greenery. Th vegetation was so dense here with huge trees full of vines and lots of bamboo. We saw elephants again on their way to the cave. Mark said the cave was great and they had to crawl on their stomachs to get in. Mark, Naomi and Suzie came back for a swim and we had to wear sarongs as swimsuits are regarded as too daring and impolite. The others returned on elephants and then we all walked back to the village.
Here there were about twenty Karen women waiting for us with their weavings. The married women wear black and red clothes and the unmarried girls wear long white dresses with hot pink trim. We all crowded onto the verandah outside the hut and they spread out their weavings of rugs, scarves, wall hangings, bags, and clothes.
It started to rain suddenly and they quickly packed up and we all squeezed together under the eaves on either side of the verandah. It began to really pour then hail and we were all laughing together – a lovely experience. It was still hot and Sally and Bridget washed themselves in the rain which cooled all of us down. The rain was getting even heavier so we all went into the hut and bought lots of weavings. Mark and I bought a scarf for 100Baht ($5 AUS), a blanket for 500Baht ($25 AUS) and a shirt for Mark. After the women left we all sat around with candles while Doi cooked our dinner. We lounged around on the floor and had lots of laughs before having dinner of vegetables and eggs off a low wooden table in the candlelight.
Mark and I had our own little room with a window and wooden shutters. The hut was still absolutely basic but much nicer than the night before. Unfortunately, the sleeping mats were still as uncomfortable as ever and we needed blankets for the first time as the night became cool. The worst was yet to come, however, as I had to get up three times for urgent toilet visits. This was my worst nightmare. Each time I had to find the torch and toilet paper, pick my way in the dark over sleeping bodies, find my boots under the hut, walk through the mud and ‘go’ in the horrid pit toilet behind the hut while trying not to make those awful ‘toilet noises’ – definitely not one of my best experiences. A bad night’s sleep had by us all.
Saturday 17th May, 1997 Third Day of Trek and Chiang Mai
Woke early again and I wasn’t feeling too good so I couldn’t eat the porridge Doi had made for breakfast. Hard to understand why I was the only one to get sick as we’d all eaten the same food for two days and I only drank bottled water. We packed up our gear and said goodbye to the villagers. As we walked through the village we watched a woman weaving a blanket – so glad we have one to remember this lovely place.
At first we walked through a pretty river area crossing lots of creeks sometimes by walking across narrow branches but mainly walking straight through the water getting our boots soaked again. After lots of hills and walking through rice paddies, we came at last to Tham Lod village and Cave Lodge.
We quickly showered and packed and then Mark and the others had a Thai lunch. I only had a salad as I was feeling really nauseous by now. After lunch we all piled into a songthaew to take us to Pai. I sat in the front with Noan and her husband so I could see the road. The hour and a half drive to Pai was all right but when we got there we found that there was no bus running to Chiang Mai – what they call ‘Thai time’. This didn’t seem to worry Noan and her husband who now had to drive us all the way. First they drove us to a shop to buy water for the four or five hours to Chiang Mai.
It started to rain about half an hour later and we had to stop and put the canvas sides down. Mark said it was pretty awful in the back and most of the group felt sick – so stuffy in there and they couldn’t see the road ahead. They all made the most of it though and there was singing and lots of joke telling. I felt so sick in the front and Noan kept fussing over me. She was really sweet and kept feeling my forehead and she put a blanket over me. It was so hot and I tried to let it slip off my shoulder but then she’d notice and tuck in back in. I kept asking her how far it was to Chiang Mai but she would just give a big smile, hold up five fingers and say’ Chiang Mai five’. I guess that was all the English she could speak so I just gave up. The five hours felt like ten with the heat, the rain, the winding road, feeling nauseous and on the verge of gastric the whole way. This ride was a ‘experience’ for everyone.
The road improved as we came into busy Ban Mae Malai and the last hour was through very thick traffic. We finally arrived at Chiang Mai at six o’clock and said goodbye to Noan and her husband who had to drive all the way back to Cave Lodge. The guesthouse was luxury after sleeping in grass huts but the rooms were as hot as hell. I felt so sick by now but rang Angie and Lauren as I couldn’t wait to hear how they were. I couldn’t go out and was so disappointed to miss the famous Chiang Mai night market. Mark went out for a quick dinner with the others and came home early.
Sunday 18th May, 1997 Chiang Mai
Despite the heat we both slept well but I was still feeling sick on the stomach. We went for a walk and had fruit for breakfast at a small café. Back at the hotel I rang Mum and Dad then we decided to find McDonalds – couldn’t take any more rice or noodles! It was so cool inside and we ran into some of the others there as well. We bartered for jewelry and carved boxes in the markets then took a samlor ride. These are cycle rickshaws and this was our first ever ride but the driver was so old and we just couldn’t cope with seeing him struggle so we asked him to stop and just paid him anyway.
On the walk back to the guesthouse, we bought a mask and some nickel earrings – good shopping here with lots of hilltribe crafts for sale. We dumped our shopping in our room then picked up the clothes we’d sent to the laundry – big mistake. Some loose brown pants Mark had bought in Bangkok had run and all of our clothes (including the shirt he’d bought from the Karen women) either had brown streaks or were a lovely fawn colour. Not a disaster but we think we’ll do our own from now on.
Back out in the streets we found a place near the hotel that gave massages for 100Baht an hour. This place was wonderful! We were taken out to the back of a shop and up a lovely wide old wooden staircase to a big room painted pink with coloured sails on the ceiling and a wooden floor. We were dressed in coloured pyjamas and groovy music was playing somewhere downstairs – great atmosphere! The massage was good but so painful. I was stretched and thrown about but Mark was too big for the little Thai man to move so he just laughed and gave up.
We were running late by now and we raced back to the guesthouse to pack and meet the others. We all shoved our gear into a songthaew and set off for the station. Here, Mark and I went for a walk along the street opposite and bought junk food for the journey as we’d already experienced the rather ordinary train food on the way here. We pulled out of Chiang Mai at 4.40pm for the thirteen-hour trip back to Bangkok.
There were lots of toilet visits on the train which of course were the squat type we’d become accustomed to. The police came aboard at some stage and this time they had sniffer dogs with them – scary place! The train stopped before dark which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. Village people were lining the tracks with fruit to sell to the passengers through the open windows – how fantastic! We had a nice night talking to the others who we’d become really friendly with by now. Mark slept badly in the top bunk and I spent another night toilet hopping. I was scared every time I had to go – thought I was going to be murdered and be found with my head stuffed down the toilet.
Monday 19th May, 1997 Bangkok to Sangkhalburi
Most of us were already awake at 4.30 am to say goodbye to Robin and Warren who were getting off at the airport to fly to Phuket. After the tough week we’d just had, I think most of us envied them a few days lounging around on a beach instead of setting off on more Intrepid ‘adventures’. But an adventure is what we wanted, so let’s go!
After goodbyes and promises of letters and swapping photos, Mark and I got into the bottom bunk together for the rest of the trip. By 5.30am we could see the city was already alive with cars and people. We arrived at Bangkok Station at 6am and got into four tuktuks to take us back to the Viengtai Hotel. We raced each other through the streets that were getting busy even at that hour – great fun! We passed lines of monks in their orange robes on their alms rounds and morning markets busy already. Bangkok is so exciting!
It felt like coming home as we pulled into our hotel. Mark and I, Ross, Karne and Bridget were the only ones going on for the second part of the trip. We gave goodbye cuddles to Suzie, Carole, Vanessa, Sally and Enda and were really sorry they weren’t coming with us. They were all off backpacking to Vietnam or other parts of Thailand. The rest of us were given a dayroom and we all showered and repacked our bags for the second part of the trip. Mark and I walked around to Khao San Road to an open-air café for breakfast. A young Thai boy took our order but after fifteen minutes he came back with nothing. We ordered again and finally got our brekkie and raced back to the hotel to meet up with the new group. We now had two Irish girls called Siobhan and Delores and a loud-mouthed Canadian girl called Elizabeth. We also had a very trendy looking guy called John who was learning to be an Intrepid leader.
We had our shopping and excess clothes put into storage while Ross and Karne spent an hour tracking down two bags of clothes they’d put into storage the week before. Apparently they’d been sent to the laundry by mistake and had been washed! We were just in time to rescue our own gear when we saw it disappearing into a lift instead of the storage room behind the counter. Where was it going?
Ready at last, we strapped on our packs and walked to the end of our road where we found taxis to take us to the Southern Bus Station. We had a groovy driver who was playing loud ‘Eagles’ songs. The bus to Kanchanaburi was still a local bus but this time it was air-conditioned – luxury compared to the buses of the north but totally lacking in character. I was still feeling sick and slept some of the way – hate that – feel like I’ve missed seeing something.
Out of the bus at Kanchanaburi, we squashed into samlors to take us to a guesthouse called Rick’s Lodge about fifteen minutes through town. Mark and I had the slowest rider or the slowest rickshaw but maybe we were just too heavy with us and three backpacks hanging off the back. We drove past the Allied War Cemetery where thousands of allied POW’s were buried after dying in captivity during World War II. This is immaculately kept with green lawns and flowers. We finally pulled up at Rick’s Lodge in a dusty laneway behind the cemetery.
This is a bamboo guesthouse with a big bamboo verandah looking over the famous River Kwai. So nice here in these casual surroundings – one of the joys of Asia is the open-air cafes. We all had a buffet style dinner. Mark and the others had Thai but I only had a salad to settle my stupid stomach.
After lunch we piled our gear on top of a small van and squeezed inside for the three-hour trip to Sanghklaburi. We drove through open country with only a few small towns. After about an hour, Naomi noticed a man and a motorbike in a ditch on the side of the road and made our driver stop. Our driver was a horrible man who never smiled and even wanted to leave the man there because he said he was probably dead! Mark and Naomi ran back to help him and they lifted him onto the back of an army truck to be taken to hospital. He wasn’t too badly hurt but Mark and Naomi both had blood on them when they got back to the van.
The road for the last couple of hours of the trip was very windy and steep – so many hills and mountains in this country! It’s very green here compared to the north and we saw lots of people living in houseboats on the lake which we followed for the last half an hour.
We arrived at Sangkhlaburi about five o’clock. The town is situated near the Burmese border on the edge of Lake Khao Laem. Very few Thais live here and it’s mainly inhabited by Burmese refugees and Karen and Mon tribes so it was different to other Thai towns. We pulled up at P Guesthouse which overlooked the lake. It consists of a restaurant and small huts all built of wood, bamboo and stone. Our huts had a grass roof and a verandah overlooking the lake with the Mon village on the other side. We had shared squat toilets (accustomed to by now) and cold showers (no problem, because of the heat).
We all had dinner together in the lovely open-air café by the lake. Thai food for Mark and the rest of the gang but Karne and I ordered cheeseburgers as he was feeling sick as well – great to have someone to be sick with – not feeling so pathetic. We all had a few too many drinks but an early night as we were all exhausted after the last week. There were lots of ghekkos around the hut and amazing to hear the noise they make – they really do say ‘ghekko’!
Tuesday 20th May, 1997 Sangkhlaburi
We had a fantastic sleep and then a lovely breakfast (feeling better at last) with Delores and Siobhan overlooking the lake. It was hot already and after cold showers we walked down to the lake to meet the longtail boat. Kumsoi was our guide for the elephant trek as well as bringing our lunch. She was so happy with a beaming face and always laughing.
We set off across the lake to see the Mon village and on to a partly submerged Buddhist temple. Forty minutes later we came to where a river joined the lake and here were the elephants. Cannot but be amazed to see them. There were seven elephants here with their mahouts and it was fun watching everyone making idiots of themselves trying to climb on. This time the elephants were made to kneel down and we climbed on to their knees but it was still so awkward.
The scenery was spectacular with the river and the hills in front of us and so much greenery. We rode for hours beside the river, crossing it several times and then through thick jungle. We had lots of laughs as Ross and Karne’s elephant was crazy and kept heading off on its own. We’d see them crashing through huge clumps of bamboo and down steep embankments totally off the track. Our elephant had a flatulence problem and let off a ginormous fart – so embarrassing but everyone just blamed Mark.
It was so uncomfortable sitting in the basket but worth it for the scenery and the great experience. So hot now and we were trying to fan ourselves with clumps of leaves from the trees we had to keep pushing out of our faces. The best surprise was when we rode into a Karen village and picked up a baby elephant to come with us. She was so gorgeous with her little mohawk hairdo and we couldn’t take our eyes off her. She kept us all laughing as she stumbled up the embankments beside her mother and when we rode through the deepest part of the river she would completely disappear under the water and then bob up again then under again. Such a great feeling on the ride as Kumsoi sang while bells jingled around the elephants’ necks – only partially spoilt by Elizabeth’s incessant chatter – poor Bridget! A camera crew from Bangkok television followed us all the way and met us again at the end of the ride. We could see them filming us as we were riding through the deepest part of the river. The water was up to the eyes of the elephants and it looked fantastic with the thick jungle all around.
We stopped for lunch by the river and I got up the courage to sit on an elephant’s knee so Mark and I could have our photos taken. Lunch was rice and pineapple that Kumsoi had brought with her. After lunch we all got onto bamboo rafts that were waiting there for us. Mark stood right up the front and I stood at the back and we steered with long bamboo poles. Actually Mark steered – I had no idea what I was doing and I was nervous as we had to stand up. Mark did all the work and we went really well. The girls didn’t do so well and Bridget spent more time in the water than on the raft. The Irish girls were in heaps of trouble and Delores had the most fantastic fall that had us all laughing for days. They kept getting stuck on rocks and had to be pulled off at one stage by a passing elephant. The rain started pouring down but it was still and warm and made it an unreal experience. It stopped as quick as it started and it was hot and sunny again. Ross and Karne spent most of the time pushing people off rafts and Mark got in on it too. Ross seemed to go berserk and even tried to drown the lovely Elizabeth – it shut her up for a few seconds anyway.
After about another hour we reached the longtail boat which dropped us off at the Mon village. The markets here were fantastic with goods smuggled in from Myanmar (Burma), China and India. Mark and I bought four bedspreads – everything so cheap and very different to other markets we’d seen. It was really pouring by now and we tried to get a songthaew at the village to take us back to the hotel. Couldn’t find one so our only option was to walk. The rain was heavy but it wasn’t cold and it was fun, really. The Mon villagers were so friendly and were waving and laughing at us as we walked past their huts. From the village we crossed over the bridge to Sangkhlaburi – of course, it had to be the longest wooden bridge in Thailand! We kept on walking through the pouring rain until a kind American woman saw how miserable we all looked and stopped to pick us up in her truck. We climbed in to the open section on the back and she drove us all the way back to P Guesthouse.
When we arrived the camera crew had already put the video together and were so excited to see it so soon. After showers and dry clothes we had drinks by the lake then all had dinner together. We had lots of drinks after dinner and talked and laughed for ages – great night! Mark and I went to bed about 10 o’clock and laughed till we went to sleep- very tipsy! Bridget, Ross and Karne came back to their hut next to ours about midnight and made lots of noise crashing about and laughing – also very tipsy! Our best day yet!!!
Wednesday 21st May, 1997 Sangkhlaburi to Kanchanaburi
An early rise again mainly due to the noisy longtail boats on the lake and the sounds of animals and music coming from the Mon village. After breakfast we all squashed into a small and very uncomfortable songthaew for the three-hour trip to Nam Tok. We were so cramped that John had to hang off the back the whole way. Our driver was a madman and kept stopping to do errands on the way and out of the way and then drive like crazy to get us to the train on time. We were all scared and Naomi kept banging on the glass between us and the cabin for him to slow down. He didn’t take any notice and it really was the ride from hell. So glad to reach Nam Tok alive. It was nice here near the station and we had lunch in an open-air café run by some happy Thai ladies and then watched them buy seafood from a man passing by.
At one o’clock we boarded the train to take us to Kanchanaburi. The train is called the Death Railway as the tracks and bridges were built by Australian, British and Thai POW’s during World War II and cost thousands of lives. It was hard to imagine what dreadful things happened only fifty years ago in this now lovely and peaceful area. The train itself was old and had beautiful polished bench seats. The train was full of locals who all seemed to be having a great time and hanging out the windows. We had good views of the River Kwai and crossed the famous bridge as we came into Kanchanaburi two hours later.
At the station, we found samlors to take us to Rick’s Lodge again. We had grass huts here too but this time we had our own toilet and shower – the toilet was even a sit down one! Our bed was in a loft which we had to get to by a bamboo ladder. We even had a thick mattress on the floor – a five star grass hut! It began to rain heavy again late in the afternoon – the rainy season has definitely begun. We decided to just lie around for the afternoon.
The rain had stopped by dark and it was hot and steamy again. We all decided to go to the night markets and set off down the laneways and streets of Kanchanaburi. It was smelly and dirty as usual but really alive and interesting. People were everywhere cooking and eating and lots of food stalls lining the streets. It took about forty minutes to reach the night food market where there were incredible things to eat – frogs, snails and even cockroach-looking bugs frying in a huge wok – they stank! Bridget picked up some cute looking furry creature but it peed all over her – a good laugh. There were no westerners here and everything was written in Thai so we had no idea what we were ordering. It was great to watch the people cooking in woks and we spent a couple of hours going from stall to stall. Mark and I sat down at a small table near one of the stalls with Naomi, John and Bridget. They all ordered a famous Thai dish called ‘pad thai’ then we all had banana pancakes smothered in condensed milk and sugar – beautiful but really sweet.
We walked back to the guesthouse at about ten o’clock and it was still really hot. There’s always something to see walking through towns and villages. People sit outside their homes sewing, cooking and eating. The homes are open and we could see that most people live in one room with only a bed, a few pieces of furniture and always a TV, a shrine for Buddha and photos of the royal family. The Buddhist shrines are in all homes and shops and are decorated with flowers, burning incense and coloured lights.
We climbed up our bamboo ladder and into our bed as soon as we got back. Went to sleep listening to the sounds of ghekkos and frogs outside our hut.
Thursday 22nd May, 1997 Kanchanaburi to Hua Hin
Our alarm woke us at six o’clock after a good sleep. The day was beautifully still and sunny and we had breakfast on the verandah overlooking the River Kwai. Afterwards we walked down to the river and boarded a longtail boat to take us to the Jeath War Museum about fifteen minutes downstream. The river is lined on either side with brightly painted barges that are used at night as floating restaurants and discos – hideous!
The Jeath Museum is set in the cool, shaded grounds of Wat Tai and run by a Thai monk. The building is a replica of the bamboo huts the prisoners of war were forced to live in. It appeared very unassuming at first but as we read the stories and looked at the photographs of the young prisoners we all became very quiet – most of us had a cry. It was an unexpected reaction as we’d all heard the stories before but maybe to be here where it all happened, it really brought it home.
Back in the boat, the lovely day made us feel better and we set off for the famous bridge at top speed. We walked across the bridge where we had great views of the river and its banks. On the other side we found a small market and a mother elephant and her cute baby. I put out my hand to touch the baby’s trunk which it wrapped around my wrist – incredible strength for such a baby.
The boat ride back to Rick’s Lodge in the early morning was beautiful. We quickly packed up our gear and climbed into yet another songthaew. This one was bigger than any we’d been in before and was quite comfortable – or maybe we were just getting accustomed to this strange transport. We drove for about an hour for an enjoyable ride to Ban Pong.
The open-air station here was really interesting – lovely in the sunshine with flowers and trees all around. While we waited for the train, Mark, Elizabeth and I walked down the street and tried some of the street stalls – things on skewers, lychees and mangosteens. At the station we bought little Thai cakes and water for the train.
Mark and I both sat next to Thai ladies with huge baskets of fruit and vegetables that they carried on either end of a bamboo pole. They got off after a few stops and we had double seats to ourselves for the rest of the trip. Great to stretch out for a change and watch the scenery through the open windows. The countryside was flat now and lots of palms and rice paddies. A really interesting trip and only three hours.
We arrived at Hua Hin at two o’clock and walked the fifteen minutes from the train station to the guesthouse. The town is a beach resort for Thais – pretty small and busy but hot and smelly as usual. The guesthouse, Baan Samboon, was really cute and situated down a quiet laneway. It has a bar and dining room downstairs off a lovely green garden with a pond and lots of tropical flowers. Our room was upstairs with a cute window overlooking the lane. We had a fan but it was still stifling so we decided to splurge and pay extra for air-conditioning.
After unpacking, Mark and I walked down to the Post Office to ring the girls – great to hear them and that everything is fine at home. We bought an icecream to cool us down and then met for a group meeting. We decided that we’d all do our own thing so Mark and I walked around the town and down to the beach. Lots of market stalls, food stalls and cafes near the beach with places hiring pushbikes and motorbikes. The shopping was really awful with hideous things for sale. Mark did all right, though, and bought six shirts for home (150Baht each). We also ordered a suit for Mark and a jacket for me from ‘G Armani” which we were told would be ready the next day.
Late in the afternoon it began to rain heavily and we ate in a small café not far from the hotel. We went back to the guesthouse for showers then back to ‘G Armani’ for fittings for our clothes. The tailor was a poor little man wearing ragged clothes and thongs and who arrived on a bike. It is sad to think of how little he’ll be paid for sitting up all night sewing our clothes.
We met the others downstairs at the guesthouse at seven o’clock and followed Naomi to the night market for dinner. So busy and colourful here but with lots of beggars who sit in the walkways between the food stalls. It is pitiful to see and we gave some money but can’t give to all. Mark and I sat at a food stall on little chairs and ordered Thai food then I bought a bag of watermelon. At nine o’clock we all met together again and walked to a bar near our guesthouse. A Thai man was playing a guitar and singing Western country music and we were all drinking and getting very merry.
After he’d finished, another Thai guitarist came on and played Thai music. A table of about thirty locals were sitting near us and getting very drunk and noisy and some of the men were up dancing. One of them was having a birthday and we all sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him in English. Most of our group had gone home by now and only Mark, Bridget, Karne and me were left. The Thai people sent over a piece of birthday cake because we’d joined in with their singing, so Mark bought the ‘birthday boy’ a Thai rum. They just loved us after that. They started buying us Thai rums then dragged us up on to dance with them. We had a great time with these lovely people.
When the bar closed the four of us walked to a café and ordered hamburgers and did a lot of swearing and laughing and Elizabeth bagging. We made a lot of noise getting back into our rooms at the guesthouse at 2pm but didn’t manage to wake anyone.
Friday 23rd May, 1997 Hua Hin
We slept in till 9.30am, showered and had breakfast in a café near the guesthouse. Mark and I walked down to the beach where there were hundreds of umbrellas and deckchairs for hire. We decided to walk down the beach and have a swim. The water was warm but great to be at the beach after two weeks in the heat. We had a Thai massage on the beach lying on big pink silky sheets under the palm trees – it hurt again. We had another swim then walked back to the hotel.
In the afternoon we walked into town along busy laneways and streets lined with cafes. We had lunch at a seafood café on the pier – lovely and cool being so close to the water. Mark ordered a nice prawn meal and I had battered prawns, battered beans, battered onions and even a battered lettuce leaf – amazing meal!
After lunch I bought a cheap handpainted fan to try and keep cool. We stopped and had drinks with Delores and Siobhann at a café and heard about their ‘wee’ trip to see a ‘wee’ cave. Then we picked our clothed up at ‘G Armani’. Mark looks beautiful in his new suit and white shirt and I look horrible in my brown jacket – not surprising. We lost the others and so we had a pizza together near the guesthouse. After dinner we walked around town then had an early night in our lovely air-conditioned room.
Saturday 24th May, 1997 Hua Hin to Bangkok
Mark and I had an early breakfast in the café street and watched the life going on in the street. We went back to the guesthouse and sat around downstairs in the cool. Mark went and tried his suit on to show Bridget and the others.
At 12.30pm we all packed and walked into town to the bus station. Very hot now and heaps of people cooking and eating on the sidewalks and traffic everywhere. We left Hua Hin at 1pm for the four hours to Bangkok. There was roadwork most of the way and traffic jams as we came into Bangkok.
At the Southern Bus Station, we crammed ourselves into a tiny van. Bridget and I were up the back almost on top of each other – it was so hot and squashed it was funny and we had lots of laughs – I think we were delirious from the heat. It took us about forty-five minutes to reach the Teak House and what a surprise! We’d imagined another grass hut but this was so beautiful – very big and ornate traditional Thai house totally made from teak. The house belongs to a lady called Pip and her family who rent it out to tourists mainly for Pip’s wonderful cooking classes. We had our own room beautifully fitted out with teak paneling and six tiny windows with wooden shutters. We had yellow silk bedcovers, a dressing table with a mirror and padded floor seats. We were all given sarongs that we had to wear all the time we were there and no shoes naturally.
Heavy rain began soon after we arrived and it was lovely to watch the rain and the wind blowing through the huge palms surrounding the house. The grounds were as lovely as the house itself with lots of mango and other fruit trees and the klong at one end. Downstairs in the teak dining room, we all gathered for drinks then sat out in the tropical outdoor area surrounded by the greenery. After drinks, we had a traditional Thai meal then sat around drinking again outside to try and cool down. The cutest dogs belonging to the house hung around us all the time – everyone’s favourite was Beaver. Mark, Bridget, Karne, Ross and Siobbhan played cards till midnight while the rest of us found a book to read in bed.
Sunday 25th May, 1997 Bangkok
We woke at 6.30am after a good sleep except for the noisy ghekkos. We left at 7.30am to go to the local market with Pip’s daughter to buy food for the day. This was a real Thai market and again we were the only farangs here. We couldn’t believe the things being sold – live frogs and turtles, rats, cockroaches, eels, snails and quail. We watched women take live fish from a dish and chop them to pieces – definitely fresh! There were masses of different fruits and vegetables many of which we’d never seen before. Mark and I bought a sarong each and some cakes just out of the oven. We bought a frozen coconut thing that looked like ice cream with nuts on top and some peanuts in their shells which turned out to be raw.
We drove back to the house and lounged around outside and then started our Thai cooking classes with Pip. She is a real sweetie and explained all the different vegetables and herbs which we all tasted. She showed us how to chop them depending on the sort of dish being made. She then showed us how to cook Tom Yam Kang (sour and spicy prawn soup), Lap Mu (spicy pork salad), Kaeng Khiao Wan Neva (Thai beef green curry) and Pha-Naeng Neva (beef curry in sweet peanut sauce). The class took about three hours and it was nice sitting in the outdoor kitchen watching her cook in the woks.
Then we followed her to the side verandah surrounded by lush gardens. We sat on the floor and watched her make her own red curry in a mortar and pestle. This took about half an hour – a job she does every day. It was good for me to be off my feet as they were really aching and, for some reason, had swollen to the size of elephant’s feet – very attractive!
For lunch we ate the food we’d watched Pip prepare. Mark loved it all but unfortunately I don’t like coconut milk, coriander or lemon grass which are in just about every Thai dish – what a party pooper! After lunch we went back to our rooms to relax. Bridget and some of the others went on a boat ride through the klongs and had a great time – wish we’d gone with them. Mark and I had a peaceful afternoon reading and talking then all met together downstairs at seven o’clock.
Another Thai meal with the vegetarians at one table (Naomi, John, Elizabeth, Delores and Siobbhan) and the meat-eaters at another table (Mark and me, Ross, Karne and Bridget). We had fun at dinner with Karne and Bridget arguing and flirting and all of us confessing our darkest secrets. We all played a card and spoon game after dinner – great fun for our last night together. Lots of laughing and screaming – Mark won and I lost – became the MUNGBEAN.
We sat around talking and drinking for hours until only Mark, Bridget, Karne and me were left. Mark did his naked ‘Billy Connelly’ romp on the lawn and again outside our room. We went to bed about midnight but couldn’t sleep for ages thinking about tomorrow and home. Looking forward to going back to Bangkok again before leaving to see it for the last time and looking forward to getting home to see the girls.
Monday 26th May, 1997 Bangkok
We woke at six o’clock to a beautiful morning. After showering and packing, we met everyone downstairs for breakfast of fresh fruit, toast and scrambled eggs. We paid up our drink bill and I mysteriously seemed to have a lot of beers on my tab even though I don’t drink it – Mark must have snuck in a few extras. We said our good-byes to Pip and her family and walked down to the klong. Beaver was there to see us off as we set off in a longtail boat for Bangkok.
The klongs were very narrow at first and we watched people bathing and washing their clothes in the muddy water. The houses are built right up to the water and most have small boats tied up alongside. We passed lots of little canoe-type boats filled with fruit and vegetables and some piled high with goods like small shops. After about fifteen minutes we entered a wider canal and then even wider ones as we came closer to the city. We passed elaborate wats and then the Fish Temple. The klongs finally joined the Chao Praya River and here again was the busy river traffic we’d seen before – ferries, riverboats, barges, houseboats and longtail boats of all sizes.
We disembarked at a small ferry wharf and walked for fifteen minutes through the small busy alleyways to come to Tanee Road and the Viengtai Hotel. We tried to arrange with the hotel staff to leave our packs in storage for a few hours but after a lot of confusion we had to get Naomi to help us. We said goodbye to Delores, Siobbhan, Elizabeth and John and walked around to Khao San Road with Bridget, Karne and Ross to arrange transport to the airport.
Mark and I left the others to cash some travellers cheques and do some last minute shopping. We bought pillowcases, bags and two big extra bags for the plane to hold all our purchases. So hot and we had to waste precious shopping time by stopping in a café for an iced pineapple juice. We were running out of time and raced back to the hotel to pack. We had our gear spread out all over the foyer but Mark managed to squeeze it all in.
The five of us then struggled back around to Khao San Road to get the airport bus. There were already eight people inside and the roof looked full of packs but we managed to cram in and we took off for the airport. Sad to be leaving Bangkok – so much to see and we wonder if we’ll ever be back. The bus driver spent the whole time weaving in and out of traffic and we arrived at the airport forty minutes later in record time for the middle of the day. We couldn’t resist ordering pizza at the airport and then were devastated as we forgot to ask for window seats when we checked in.
We sat around with Karne and Ross who were flying with us as far as Singapore and then catching a connecting flight to Perth. Bridget was also on our plane as she was off to Australia for an extended holiday. She is such a sweet, fun person and Mark and I sat with her for the two hours to Singapore. WE were all devastated when we open our meals and discovered we were having rice for dinner! At Changi Airport in Singapore we said goodbye to Ross and Karne and took off one and a half-hours later for Sydney. We couldn’t get seats with Bridget at first but after half an hour we managed to move and we sat together for the eight hours home.
We arrived at Sydney Airport at 5.15am and gave Bridget big hugs and promises to see each other soon. Mark and I flew back to Newcastle with Aero Pelican and it was great to watch the coastline as we headed home. Disappointed at Pelican as the girls weren’t there to meet us as Angie was sick. Jacky and Dad were there though and drove us back to see Mum and then home to see our darlings. Good to be home.