A Tale of Two Flip Flops

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . ( sorry Mr Dickens ).

When planning this 5 month trip around S.E. Asia I asked my son who had done his gap year a few years before ( indeed it was the kids gap years that we have tried to copy on this trip though with what I call comfortable pillows at night rather than hostels ) what I should be sure to pack above all else. Decent flip flops he said . You will be in them almost all of the time in the heat and will be wandering around cities in them and on hot sand on the beach. It is essential you get a pair that will last and are comfortable. Hot sand always reminds me of the great scene in 10 when Dudley Moore starts across the hot sand trying to look suave and debonair . As he walks his feet begin to burn and he is reduced to throwing his towel down and hopping on it to advance shouting out in pain and looking like a mad man

Of course decent to me meant spend money. You get what you pay for etc. So in Oxford Street London last October visiting with him I popped into John Lewis . Wonders of wonders they had a sale on of flip flops, which I guess makes sense really in England with winter approaching. The most expensive leather style flip flops with extra padding on the heel were reduced from £40 to £15 and as these were top of the range I pounced and grabbed the last pair.  The draw back was that they were joined together with one of those security things that they remove at check out and anyway I really didn’t want to take my shoes and socks off in John Lewis on a busy Sunday. So they were placed untested in the suitcase for the trip. But hey £40 flip flops are going to be like walking on air aren’t they ?

Well Hong Kong wasn’t the place for flip flops so it wasn’t until Bangkok that they came out of the suitcase and got a walk about. They looked good but were just a tad uncomfortable. Wear them in and they will be fine I told myself, £40 flip flops will be great after a day or so won’t they. That night in the hotel room the first aid kit also got it’s first outing of the trip and plaster was placed on both of my second toes and the poor little ones. My little piggies looked very sorry for themselves and certainly not fit enough to go to market, stay at home or eat roast beef.

The next day was no better and so in Ban Krut I asked at the hotel where I could buy some new ones. Indeed my feet by then  resembled those of an arctic explorer struck down with frost bite. I half envisaged having to take my toes off with some old rusted blade they way they always seemed to have to do in tales of exploration years ago.

The hotel kindly took me into to town and to the only flip flop seller there. His choice was not great and so picking a pair was easy he only had one colour.

My Flip Flops

 

My son was right, I have worn them almost everyday since I bought them, they have walked  loads of beaches, trogged around temples, been into churches, been left outside mosques, seen good restaurants and tatty ones, sat in taxis, limousines and tuk tuks, had accidental swims in seas and puddles some with rather dodgy contents festering in them and generally been great companions as they have never moaned about their lot in life.These ones cost me 60 pence and the John Lewis ones were nicked in Vietnam when I accidentally on purpose left them outside one evening . I pity the poor Vietnamese who is now rueing the day he took them and looking at his swollen bandaged feet.

Having seen me through thick and thin yesterday evening I forgot I had worn them up to the pool in the morning and and so left them there when I came back down to shower and head out.

Once I discovered their loss I dashed to the pool but the lad had closed up and cleaned away. Lost I thought and was inconsolable as I cried into first my beer and then a rather large bowl of Singapore fried rice.

This morning sitting by the pool eating breakfast I asked the morning pool guy if they had been found. No he said and my breakfast was yet another sad affair. I planned a least 5 days of mourning and wanted to get into town to get a black armband and some suitable funereal music for the iPod. Luckily I already had this one on it

brings tears to your eyes doesn’t it.

But wait the pool guy is coming back. What colour he asks ? Green I say . Well come and see if these are they he says and takes me to his cubical where the towels are kept and guess what . There they were, my little flip flops sitting waiting for my return . Ahhhhhhh

Where you been ? my flip flops said in broken Thai english , we worry about you, you getting old and forgetful.

My flip flops sound just like my wife .

 

 

 

 

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Something For The Weekend Sir?

The only problem with going away for a long time is that it becomes necessary to have things done that you normally have someone you trust to do. I refer , of course, to having your haircut.

After 3 months of hoping to get away with not having to do it my shaggy dog look finally began to embarass even me. So I had to do something about it and started to look on line about getting an haircut in Saigon.

I should explain we have now left Phu Quoc and yesterday we flew back up to Saigon. Phu Quoc was good but the lack of variety in the food gradually takes it’s toll on you and you begin to dread seeing another squid for the rest of your life. So it was back to the city and then on Wednesday we head off to the mighty Mekong River up to Cambodia and to the capital Phonm Pehn before returning here for their New Year.

There was plenty of info on getting an haircut in Saigon. That is of the cutting variety not being ripped off of which there was much more. Most of the hair cutting stuff was horror stories by visitors and expats about their experience of trying to get a vaguely decent cut at the hands of a Vietnamese who was used to cutting or hacking locals hair.

The locals and many expats use what is called a chop house which is sometimes a place with a roof over it but more often a chair and an awning set up on the pavement which in Saigon is rarely used for pedestrians who get in the way of all the other things going on on them. This is one chop house I saw yesterday

Chop House Barber

quite a salubrious  joint you might be thinking but let me just say the customer on the right had a fine head of hair before the guy got going on him !!

The thing going for them is they cost about 25,000 dong (70P) but you have no idea whether the guy has ever cut hair before and the trouble with hair cutting is when it is done it is done there is no sticking it back on.

My problem is that living in Italy it is almost impossible not to find a good barber. It is normally more a choice about how close to the house is he, can you park outside and how good is the coffee he offers you. The haircutting is a given, he will be brilliant at it and the whole thing is just a superb experience.

The internet consensus  was that Just Men was the place to go which suited me anyway as it was near the bar I wanted to watch football at that evening. Two birds with one stone I hoped.

In fact Just Men had already disappeared but had been replaced by this shop on the same site.

My Haidressing Shop

In I went and was immediately put in a chair. My hairdresser had the strangest hair style I have seen rather short at the sides and standing almost on end on the top as if he had seen a ghost. However once we had established such a style was not for me he proceeded sheepishly to cut. It was slow work and every 2 minutes he would ask if that was okay. Unfortunately I wear glasses so peering into the mirror I was unable to see what he was up to anyway. The blind leading the blind. Half an hour went by and nothing seemed to have changed up top other than an awful lot of water had been squirted on my hair. Still he snipped slowly and still I encouraged him to be a little bolder. After 45 mins I gave up and agreed it was superb, never seen my hair looking better. He beamed, I beamed and then he asked for 235,000 dong. Clearly I was paying by the minute not by the cuttings on the floor. However by then the game had started and my beer was going warm on the counter. I paid what must have been a kings ransom to him and fled.

Actually it isn’t that bad and by next week I should be able to take my hat off and show the world my cut. I am dreading going back to Italy and facing my barber Franco who is going to create merry hell about it.

I mentioned earlier about the uses the Vietnamese have for their pavements. The biggy is to park their motorbikes on . Not I hasten to add willy nilly style. Oh no these are organised lots. They have several attendants and you pay to park on a public pavement. They park them for you and when you come back you pay and the attendant rushes off and gets you bike and wheels it to you. It’s just that it is on the pavement

Bike Parking Lot

Almost every street pavement looks just like this. Long rows of parked bikes. The attendants who all wear uniform also use the space between the kerb and the back wheel to have all their meals on. They set up small chairs and charcoal grills and cook Hot Pot and noodles seemingly every hour or so. It never amazes me how much these guys seem to eat. If it rains they have cardboard to cover the saddles and likewise if the sun is on them.

I just keep thinking what is going to happen in Saigon when all these people graduate from a bike to a car.

More Snake Sir?

Popped down to the night market to have a look see at the place. it is at the end of the strip almost in the old fishing village. Now night markets to me conjure up stalls ladened with cheap clothes etc a la Thailand  but this one is in fact made up of an endless line of small restaurants and guess what they sell. Yup BBQ squid, prawns and Kingfish. One after the other all doing pretty much what every other restaurant is doing on Phu Quoc.

At the bottom of the street there are 2 or 3 stalls selling clothes but that is it. Not really worth the 100,000 dong cab ride but there are a couple of very local bars with yet more infant school seats and beer in cold boxes so all was not wasted.

It seems you can get some interesting food served at the night market

IMG_0259

 

Never mind the heering salad or hot pod. Hows about what you get to go with your fresh seafood. That will bring you back for seconds without a doubt.

There is one other thing they catch off the beaches here and a few people have been bitten by them. These also go on the BBQ but at least you can keep them fresh and alive before cooking them

Night Market Snakes

 

Yes, sea snakes and very tasty they are too, just like eating chicken.

The hotel we have moved to is the newest on the strip having opened last November . I had looked at it with some envy as it is right next door to the Paris Resort but had presumed it was much more expensive. But when we declined to move rooms my friendly tour operator in Saigon got me a room here for US$30 more a night. It is to say the least chalk and cheese . The Famiana Resort has fully trained staff who go to school to learn their jobs and attend English lessons for 3 hours a week. it is professionally  managed by an hotel General Manager and is not amateur hour like the Paris. So a couple of shots as always. The view from the breakfast table :

Famiana Gardens

 

and from the bed chair and please note it has it’s very own sea based assault course.

Famiana Play Ground

 

all very It’s a Knockout from the 1970’s on BBC TV with the now imprisoned Stuart Hall and Eddie Warring the rugby league commentator . Boy the BBC could make some rubbish and we watched it .

We also have our own 18 hole gold course in the grounds and so you can play a few rounds before the sun gets too hot. Tee times are easy to book and to be fair you don’t need too much gear to carry though I’m sure this hotel would give you a caddy !!!

Famiana Golf courseW

We’ll okay I accept it’s not St. Andrews or Pebble Beach but with a cut down putter for a six year old it is quite a challenge !

So this hotel is  the newest on the strip but 5 hotels down towards town is the oldest built in the 1980’s when there was nothing on Long Beach but a few run down old French Colonial houses . In those days there were no roads on the island so you had to come by boat from the mainland and so did building materials . So you needed a pier that would survive monsoonal seas .

Pier Thousand Stars

 

and so The Thousand Stars Resort as it is called boasts the only pier on the whole strip.

It is a weird hotel built by an eccentric with his own idea of what things to put around the place. The gardens and the beach are dotted with oddities

Sculptures Thousand Stars

 

The place has certainly seen better days , much better days and is still open but up for sale and awaiting some developer to come and do it a favour and put it out of it’s misery by knocking it down.

If you go onto Tripadvisor and look it up there is not one review that doesn’t start with the first line in massive capitals. DO NOt STAY HERE. and then the poor person goes on to list a litany of problems they have encountered. One poor couple who stumbled on it one evening when the taxi dropped them at the wrong hotel had to pay to get their passports back once they had checked in and realised they were in the wrong hotel. We’ll phone the police they told the manager. Great he said they don’t speak English and you signed a booking form for 7 nights accommodation. Pay up to be able to leave. Now there’s customer service for you.

Wouldn’t happen at the Famiana ……. Would it????

 

 

Expat Bars

Apologies for no posts but the internet at the Paris is down and looks likely to remain so. We have moved hotels now and I am on line again

It was a good time to leave the Paris Hotel as groups were beginning to arrive. Two days ago a group of Germans arrived some 20 in all . 18 of them were Chinese/Germans and were clearly here to have a good time.

In the early 1970’s Monty Python did  a sketch on the then new phenomenon of package holidays and what they were like. One of the lines from it was ” and swimming pools full of huge Germans building pyramids.”

Would these German living and speaking Chinese follow the same pattern set in the 1970’s I wondered. Well yes and no in fact as with the advancement of technology building human pyramids in the pool is clearly passé. Instead enter the underwater camera. So 20 people jump into the pool and one with the camera faces the other 19. the 19 then take a deep breath and down under they go . the photographer takes the photo and all 20 come to the surface. Loads of laughing and high fives and bellows follow as the water erupts around the pool . But wait the photograph missed out on his/her photo so let’s do it again. what fun, what a super game, isn’t everyone else enjoying the noise and the fun we are having. In fact lets do it 19 times and see if we can empty the pool of water and submerge a few bed chairs. No thy haven’t changed at all.

Oh yes expat bars. let me just say that I’m not on about the bars in major cities frequented by working expats gathering at a favourite watering hole at the end of the day.

i’m on about the ones in seaside towns where clearly an holidaymaker has at some stage sat on a beach and said to the partner “you know this place needs a decent pub let’s stay and open one “.

I remember in Goa in about 1990 venturing out of a Taj hotel one evening and finding such a place with a large “just opened” sign on it. A couple from Manchester had just rented it and were busy turning  it into an English pub replete with pint mugs and fish and chips on the freshly painted menu. ” Been a dream of ours “they said “just what the area needs ” said his wife. ” Been here in the monsoon” I enquired . ” no but we get a lot of rain in Manchester ” they chorused. Hmm I thought as i finished my beer and left them dreaming of crowds of Brits spilling out into the roadway night after night. Two years later on another trip there was an empty building and a for rent sign in Hindi outside.

Phu Quoc boasts a couple of these dream places.

Expat Bar 1

My cheap laundry place is alongside the Safari run by  a Brit. I popped in to check it out and it was er empty . My beer was more than I pay in the hotel and almost double what the two nice bars nearby charge. Small wonder I thought why no one is there.

The other is American, Down Home Alabama

Expat Bar 2

and had 10 or so guys gathered around the bar. Mine host was in the middle of them . To a man they were clearly on long term holidays here for the whole winter and staying at the various hostels around town. Everyone knew everyone else and ranks were closed as new comers entered. Mine host was as uninterested and I ordered drinks from the young Vietnamese waitress. They cost even more than The Safari indeed more than most of the hotels on the strip.

The bar was more a way for the owner to have a few mates around for a beer and get them to pay for them. Opposite was a local Vietnamese bar and there were a few more long stayers there who clearly had either fallen out with mine host or couldn’t pay the crazy prices. The bill took ages as mine host couldn’t drag himself away from his crowd.

Cross two more off the list.

In Cyprus when we lived there loads of people  followed that dream of running a pub in the sun. Few make a go of it and they pour their woes out on expat forums. New lifers I call them as they always talk about a “new life” and when it goes wrong they are always “gutted” that people who said they would support the pub by being there everyday didn’t. “We were gutted” ” We came here in good faith ” etc.

It is normally best left as a dream . Shouldn’t it be sweet home anyway ?

All Quiet

In case your worried that is snow falling on the blog and not a problem with your eyes. I can jazz up the site for Christmas. Apparently I can even add Christmas songs to it but have resisted that at the moment.

No protests today as the protesters decided that they would help clean up the areas where the they have been active near government buildings. It is all to do with the King’s birthday tomorrow and both sides seem eager to not offend him . So it will all start again on friday by which time we should be long gone. Still it has certainly livened up the past couple of days.

Whilst up in Chiang Mai and staying at the Opium Apartments I had some trouble getting this laptop to link with the hotel internet. Luckily there were an army of people staying there who were eager to help and eventually a South African lad Jerry got it all worked out for me. He had just spent 4 months in Vietnam  and advised me to get a booster for the internet signal as many hotels there have lousy signals. An American lad Zac who works at Best Buy as a computer salesman told me it is all to do with the number of routers the hotel installs. Good ones put a couple on each floor poor ones hardly any at all. Each router can run so many customers and then rejects the rest or gives them lousy connectivity . I have to say it all goes over my head but having had problems throughout Thailand I thought I should get a booster.

Bangkok is awash with computer places. The biggest is the MBK Centre with floors and floors of shops selling anything you need. Nearby is the Siam Discovery Centre, the Siam Centre and the Siam Paragon . All these malls are almost dedicated to the I.T. industry as well as having tons of DVD and CD copies as well.

However they are all near the protest area in fact they are on the road where all the tear gas and rubber bullets were fired over last weekend. Well worth a miss I thought. so instead I went to the Fortune Town Mall well away from the troubles and six stops on the metro from Si Lom .

Well I don’t know about the others but this one was four floors full of I.T. stuff. The only drawback was that almost no one spoke english and sign language for an internet booster with an ariel challenged even my charades game expertise. Sound like, 5 words, first word etc. Still i am now the proud owner of a Tenda booster with a very smart ariel. I ‘m not sure it does anything but boy I look suitable geeky now.

I was also looking for a Jawbone Jambox mini as I can’t get my iPod music on to this new MacBook Air . In fact no one had the new one which gets rave revues on Amazon.co.uk . They haven’t arrived yet over here but I did get an exact copy of one made by OnBeat.

The papers here cover today the Transparency International corruption survey. Thailand didn’t come out of it too well ranked 102 out of 177 ( least corrupt at the top and most at the bottom). The problem here seems to be mainly the political parties and the police as being the most corrupt.

Dear Italy comes in at 69 and there the survey shows people believe that almost all the corruption is with political parties, politicians and parliament. Perhaps surprisingly the only other body considered very corrupt are the medical services most especially the doctors. Only 47% of people agree with Il Cavaliere Berlusconi that the Judges are corrupt.

The UK by the way was at number 14.

So we are ready to move on tomorrow. Another travel day for us .

Yellow is the Colour…

Near this hotel is the Silom Complex mall . It is not a big mall but has lots of western shops including a Boots, Marks and Spenser and a big department store. It is also where the front desk sends you for anything you ask their advise on. ” Go Silom Complex” they say especially when it is clear they haven’t understood a word of your question. God only knows what they have sent unsuspecting guests up there to try to purchase.

There is also a large Starbucks and it was there I was sent this morning while Geraldine went shopping. I am barred from such expeditions , mind you I go willingly to sit them out.

So today I sat with my Bangkok Post newspaper and a Grande Capuccio for company. I was reading about yesterday’s protests at the government building and congratulating myself on a sound choice of hotel away from the main protest area when I started to hear whistles and car horns growing louder. Soon a full protest by the Yellows was in full swing down Silom road and right past my Mall indeed inches from my table. From the mall people came pouring as they did from office blocks and lunch stalls to cheer them on and for 20 minutes they filed past waiving Thai flags and dressed in riot type fatigues. So my first view of a protest and me almost on the front line though with so much support around them they just seemed pleased to be the focus of attention and it all seemed very friendly and well Thai I guess.

After the excitement everyone came back and continued doing what they had been doing before and the protesters went on to seize the Royal Thai Police Compound down the road. In yet another change in direction the government has said that the protesters can now occupy any government building they want without any opposition. This is to supposedly defuse the tension of the last two days. The police are back to handing out flowers to them as they march in. Fine I guess as long as they don’t wander off to the two major airports here and occupy them.

At the table alongside me a large Nigerian guy settled down and was soon joined by a Thai lady for a business meeting. I couldn’t help but overhear the entire thing ( by leaning close and hiding behind my paper ) but I’m not nosey despite what Geraldine says.

He was a buyer of some sort and what ever the product was it was being made near Bangkok. I was fascinated when he started by saying his bosses were interested in buying lots more product but were worried about the level of English spoken by the office staff at the factories so making conversation difficult and leading constantly to misunderstandings on the production line. It has been something we have noticed this time. The explosion in call centres, major hotels and tourism generally has not been kept up with by the Thai education system. Indeed Thailand sinks dramatically each year in the Asian table of English ability. Rightly or wrongly English is the language of trade now throughout the world and to be a player a country needs to have plenty of students with the ability to speak it well.

Despite the poor english on the front desk here at The Siri Sathorn ( english lessons ? Go Si Lom Complex ) it is a nice place to rest your head. Let me canter you through our place

Entrance hall

Hallway Siri Sathorn

Living Area 1

living Siri Sathorn

Kitchen Area

Kitchen Siri SathornAnother area of living stuff

More Living Siri Sathorn

and a separate bedroom and bathroom

Bedroom Siri Sathorn

What I love is the big workstation

Work Desk Siri Sathorn

Loads of cable channels and a full stereo system as well and all that for €85 a night. Now when I think what I get in Italy or France for that price well it is mind blowing. The gym has every machine a fitness fanatic could ever dream of and the pool is huge as well.

Thursday when we fly is also the King’s birthday and is a national holiday here. The protesters had originally said that if they had not succeeded in toppling the government by then they would stop. However today they said that as they had made progress but not yet achieved their goal they will fight on.

The Royla Family here is much revered and almost worshipped so I am hoping that it will be after the birthday that they start again.

Bus, Plane, Taxi

Travel day today. We drove the 3 hours back down to Chiang Mai from the Mea Kok River Resort and headed to the airport.

Any lingering thoughts of Chiang Mai as a sleepy northern town were dispelled by the 6 lane highway complete with under passes and fly overs to the airport. With 8 feeder lanes running alongside it it is bigger than the motorway in from the main airport in Bangkok. How soon before we see a sky train here?

Air Asia surprised us again by offering food and drink this time slowly wheeling a trolley the length of the aircraft. Michael O’Leary of Ryanair would be tearing his hair out at the lack of sales technique but at least you could buy a drink if you wanted.

There is now almost a half hourly service between Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Air Asia have been joined by Nok Air and another new entrant Lion ( check them out by clicking here ). A couple we met in Chiang Mai last week had just bought their tickets on Lion for US$15 each including taxes for the week after next.  Nok Air have cleverly at Bangkok grabbed the internet rights at the terminal and so you need a booking number on them if you want to connect while waiting at the Low Cost Airport here ( it’s the old airport that closed and then re-opened in 2010 ).

The taxi into town took 25 mins to the Siri Sathorn and even though we passed the Ministry of Energy we saw no protesters. Disappointingly there was no visible security at the airport when we left it . In 2008 protesters seized it and held it for 3 weeks forcing people to trains, buses and ferries to get to an airport in another country to get home.

I will be checking out a few happy hours in the area around the hotel to pick up any news on how things are going and let you know.

I booked an early morning call for 7.30 this morning at The Maekok Resort and at 7.40 the guy was knocking on the door to collect the bags ! Now there’s speedy packing but that was expecting quite a lot considering the car was booked for 9 a.m.

Bryan was on parade to wave us goodbye and told me Christmas week they are full to the gills. Having seen it struggle with 26 of us quite how they handle 72 I have no idea. Still the school was quite something.