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 ?

On The Beach

No, not the Neville Shute novel but a stroll further down Long Beach heading south from the Hotel Paris . That said while in Mui Ne I found tucked away in the shelves of the Villa Aria library a Neville Shute book. It was an old Penguin paperback book and this edition was published in 1968 and at that time sold for 3 shillings and 6 pence or 16P in new money. Clearly in an hotel built just 6 years ago it hadn’t been there since publication so someone recently had bought it from a secondhand bookstore or a charity shop in the UK and then carried all the way to Mui Ne and left it. What stories the book itself could tell and how far it had come before being abandoned. It was a book called the Pied Piper which I personally had never heard of but as it was in excellent condition I sat down to initially glance through it. The book turned out to be an excellent read and I didn’t put it down again till I had finished it. The story is quite a simple one set at the beginning of the Second World War and the characters in the book are of a generation that has now gone from the world with values so different to todays. As just a study of how people have changed it is interesting but the story is good too.

I thought I might download it from Kindle so that my whole family who all seem to be linked to my own personal Kindle account could read it too. I was surprised to read in the blurb on Kindle that is considered his finest book and quite a classic now. The book now sells on Kindle for £8 a copy so it’s not only peoples values that have changed over the years !

So what about the stroll ? Well I wanted to look at the development that continues apace here on Phu Quoc and once past a couple of very large bungalow style hotels full of very large Russians ( it is by the way a fallacy that they don’t come here in numbers) I came across my first new multi floored hotel under construction

New Hotel 1 Phu Quoc
Quite quickly there followed another one

New Hotel 2 Phu Quoc
These two that finish off the Long Beach development and are under the flight path of the new international airport I talked about in a previous post. There are only 5 flights a day at the moment so no real issues with them

Small aircraft lands
But as it grows that will increase and wannabe holiday makers coming here in a few years will need to be careful where they pick to stay as night flights thunder over their rooms in the wee small hours of the morning. Cue a song think

Now regular readers will know that I make great personal sacrifices to bring you news of things about the places I visit and Phu Quoc is no different. To find out more about the tourism industry here I positioned myself on a bar stool at Rory’s Bar on the beach and asked the friendly owner over a beer or several what is it like to be in tourism.

The owner is Chinese Australian and speaks with a very broad Aussie accent . it is quite strange looking a this small very Chinese person who says to you ” good day mate ” . Though vey much a part of the development of the Island she seemed somewhat sad that the small fishing villages that were 6 years ago pretty much all that was here have gone and hotels are busy taking their places. That said she was enthused that on Feb 3rd the Island would finally be connected to the main grid by an underwater cable that has been laid. Electricity prices are four times what they are on the mainland of Vietnam and this she says is the cause of the high prices. Electricity is by far an hotel’s biggest cost here as it is for the bars. Got keep the beers ice cold she said ” if the tinny doesn’t stick to your hand when it come out of the fridge it is Pommy beer she said too bloody warm”. Hang on a Chinese girl calling me a Pom what is the world coming to.

Will prices come down ? I asked, absolutely she said . Well personally I think pigs might fly long before that happens but we shall see.

The other exciting development she told me about after another beer had arrived in front of me ( you see how I sacrifice my poor liver for this blog) is that the Party ( central government ) is thinking of making Phu Quoc visa less . Holidaymakers arriving on the island would not require a visa ( US$45 a pop) as long as they just came here and returned to their country. Checks would be made at the port and the airport for trips to the mainland that the visitor had a visa but otherwise no cost and no hassle with getting one from an Embassy or on arrival.

It was at that point that I was grateful we had come this year to see the developing island. With no visa in place this joint will take off and now I could understand ( though after so many beers I couldn’t get off my bar stool ) why they are planning these two huge developments further south on the island. Villas, hotels, shopping malls, time shares all make sense now.

This by the way is where the first monster is going to be built stretching from here for about 6 miles down the coast and a mile or so inland.

New Town Phu Quoc
Pretty isn’t it and all along this bit of coast are small fishing villages and lots of dense jungle. Soon English footballers and Russian oligarchs will be owning it all instead.

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.

Nice Weather for Ducks

The Germans and two other small groups left yesterday after breakfast so today it was good to go back to a menu instead of the buffet that had been on offer for two days during their stay.

I’m not a great lover of buffets myself. Too many sales conferences and Travel Agent functions over the years as well as when at Thomas Cooks visiting loads of all inclusive hotels throughout the Caribbean ( tough life but someone had to do it).

Firstly I tend to get greedy and take more than I ever intended and more importantly there is always a nagging feeling as to how long it has all been hanging around in those big containers with little candles underneath them keeping them tepidly warm .

Most non inclusive hotels tried to get away from buffet breakfast for similar reasons. They could better control customers and costs by controlling what went on the plate. Lots of people me included tend to look at a breakfast buffet where no other meal is included in the cost as a way of saving on lunch and therefore bring commodious bags to breakfast to load up with stuff to eat at lunchtime. Hardly what the hotel had in mind when it thought it might save the cost of a few staff. These guys have yet to learn that lesson and especially when here labour is one of their lowest costs whereas boat loads of american bacon isn’t.

The weather that was bad  yesterday decided to show it’s ugly side today as some Chinese high pressure system sweeps through from the east. Buckets of rain all night and all through the day today . I found a place to sit undercover and started on my third book since we got here on the trusty Kindle and thank god. The books people have left here are clearly ones they just didn’t want at all and dumped. I said yesterday that with over 20 people the Resort couldn’t cope but let me add in the rain there is nothing to do at all except sit and watch it come down. Even a gym would be good or maybe some DVDs.

Just after lunch it stopped for a while and having just said to one of the staff lovely day for ducks they duly obliged

ducks

They seemed to really enjoy the pool though as the heavens opened again they too retreated under cover.

I had by yesterday taken a few photos of the gardens. They are quite lovely if you are into gardens though I guess being near water and with a soil made up of silt  anything you plant grows like a weed here especially given the rainfall !

The resort boasts a croquet pitch

IMG_0170

which I have to say I haven’t seen anywhere else except in old country house hotels in the UK. Mind you they also do tea and scones at 4 p.m. here as well.  Croquet is apparently quite a nasty game the object being to send your opponents ball off into the nearest hedge row at every opportunity nothing refined and gentile about it at all.

Gardens 1

There are pleasant walks with lots of arches  both to walk under and dispatch your opponents ball to but apart from some very hard wooden benches no where to sit or better still lie and enjoy them when the sun is out.

We had hoped to take one of these out today

Longboat

You can do an hour long cruise to the Burma border and back. I think going up must take about 45 mins against a really strong current and back down about 10 mins. However even when not raining the air temp at just 16C would have prevented it. We haven’t got the right gear with us. Amazingly two other guests that arrived late last night appeared to go on their boat trip looking like they had been decked out by the Royal Lifeboat Association or the by the crew of a Newfoundland cod trawler . Where did they get it all I wonder and what on earth will they do with it all for the rest of their trip around Thailand. It’s 36C in Bangkok today so they might look just a little out of place there or on the beach in Ko Samui.

The riots are worse in Bangkok today with tear gas etc being used. We head there tomorrow so can give you first hand info on the situation. I, like war correspondences of old will position myself in a suitable watering hole and as the beer and scotch flow compose more and more exciting reports than I can see on the local TV station in said bar whilst keeping the bills for expenses and await my nomination for a Pulizer .

Down Town

We are back by ourselves in the hotel after the German invasion. Yesterday I was out flanked by them by over sleeping and by the time I was up every pool lounger not only had a towel on but a fraulein as well. Of course 11 loungers and a group of 24 germans doesn’t compute either so the guys were on the grass.

Lunchtime we make our play I said to Geraldine but not a soul moved. I was positioned behind some trees thinking any time they will head off but instead they all ordered Thai massage and that kept them and the bed chairs occupied all day. One thing is for sure this hotel and groups don’t work, there isn’t the space if most are sun worshippers.

Today the weather turned positively chilly and so it was time to take a look in town but first let me just finish on the school I went to yesterday. One thing I hadn’t really thought of but should have done given that in Puglia there are loads of dialects that bear no relationship at all to Italian. It is true here too with the different peoples who make up the local population. Therefore not only do they have an English room

English Class Room

but they also have to teach most of the kids Thai as well in the Thai room

Thai Class Room

Now I’m sure something that has been on your mind for sometime whilst reading all this is what is the crop rotation used up here in Northern Thailand. Well I wasn’t out with an ex geography teacher for nothing team. We drove back alongside acres of paddy field and so I can now tell you. It is rice, then garlic, then herbs, then corn and back to rice. So there’s something to enliven conversation in your pub or bar this week.

The local town is called Thaton and it is on the River Kok one kilometre from the hotel. Visits are not encouraged by the hotel which is strange. They charge an eye watering 400 baht ( £8)  each way by taxi and so you walk. Route 1089 is not however some pleasant country road . It has bloody great trucks thundering up and down it as well as a varied assortment of flat bed trucks. It seems everyone in the area must own at least one and spend all day thrashing up and down to Thaton. So the walk is not for the faint hearted and colourful clothing is essential. I am amazed at how few Thais up here wear glasses whereas in Bangkok loads do. The taxi drivers we had in Chiang Mai always had trouble reading the addresses in Thai and both receptionists at the Grand Napat couldn’t read the print ( in Thai) on my iPhone, too small they kept saying. So those squinting drivers hurtling towards you in an old pick up truck aren’t worrying about the sun they are trying to figure out what the blob is in front of them and the blob is me !

Like so many Thai small towns the entrance is gloriously understated

Entrance to Thaton

The local council are especially pleased with their bus terminus which boasts a fine restaurant

bus station

However the town has no less than five yes five coffee shops of which the Sunshine cafe is the largest and the place we gave our custom too. They serve ” Italian Coffee ” but the milk is canned so we plumped for expresso .

Espresso in thaton Chiang Rai

No disrespect to the lovely if toothless lady owner but it was truly the most awful coffee I have ever had and once her back was turned it went out over the balcony. Maybe when they get an expresso machine things might look up.

I did however meet a lovely Dutch lady who lives in Thaton and has done for 8 years. There are eight expats in the little town and they must lead a very quiet life though she seemed totally happy here and loved her large rented house with it’s completely open plan and cool winds. Today I would have thought she was very cold.

The place boasts the ubiquitous 7/11 store as does every town and village almost in Thailand. They are useful especially for tourists as the everything is priced.

I bought water from the local guy

The local store

After a bit of head scratching he came up with 20 baht a bottle. Same stuff in 7/11 14 baht, so much for supporting the local guy !! Mind you his bananas as 10 baht (20p) a kilo were good.

Behind the town on a hill are 6 temples that are placed going up the steep road to the top of the hill 300 metres up. So dear reader knowing you would want a picture from the top with no concern for my own safety and well being up I went and here it is

Thaton From the Hill

I didn’t bother taking photos of all the temples as to be fair I am now templed out and am rather wanting to get back on a beach but that must wait for another 6 days unfortunately.

Oh and It wasn’t a Spitfire beer ad it was a Carling Black Label beer ad with the towel