Mein Gott Das ist Kalt

The weather for the last week has not been great, lots of cloud and the evenings especially if sitting by the sea have been quite chilly. Okay I do know it is all relative and those of you in Europe or North America would laugh at my “quite chilly” but without a light sweater it is parky.

Judging by the sea temperature the weather apart from around Christmas has obviously been colder than normal as well. It’s not the English Channel but it is colder than the Med in say July.

The Paris resort boasts quite a large and very new swimming pool as well

Pool Paris Resort Phu Quoc

It provides a nice alternative from the sea especially when the jelly fish come visit for a few days.  So far we have been lucky but around the headland where most of the hotels are they are having an extended stay and only brave souls are venturing in.

However the pool which is topped up with fresh water everyday is even colder. Now don’t please take my word for this. We have at the moment quite a few new arrivals after the Christmas and New Year people have departed the island. Many of these come from what I still term East Germany and quite a few obviously first came to Vietnam when, under their former communist rulers it was one of the few places that they could visit . Otherwise they made do with a visit to the Baltic Sea off their north coast around the Frisian Islands.

The sea there wasn’t and isn’t in summer known for it’s warmth but on entering the pool here without exception I have heard them say ” Mein Gott das ist kalt”. My God this is cold and they are back on their bed chairs after a length at most.

The Frisian Islands was of course the setting for the book The Riddle of the Sands by Erskin Childers published in 1903.

I reread it the other day sitting on a bed chair almost as a precursor to what will be an avalanche of books about the First World War which will be hitting the bookshelves in 2014 the hundredth anniversary of the start of the War.

There is a fellow blogger I read occasionally who is busy working his way through the Guardian/ Observer’s best 100 novels ever list and The Riddle is number 37. The blogger didn’t like it as he felt it was more a sailing book with some intrigue and got bored by all the nautical stuff.

However to most critics it is a book that first bought awareness to the British public that Germany under the Kaisar presented a real threat to Great Britain.

The idea that a German Navy stronger than the British Navy could escort fleets of barges from ports along Germany’s North Sea coast and land troops along the east coast of England caused major concern when the book came out and outright panic in some towns on the coast. Childers use of accurate maps and copious plans plus the fact that he worked in government added such realism that he was called before parliament to answer questions.

His book almost single handedly convinced the public that Admiral Fisher’s campaign to build more Dreadnought battleships was right and soon public meetings were shouting the slogan ” we want eight and we won’t wait”. Churchill said that the building of the two new naval bases at Scapa Flow and Rosyth before the First world War was a direct result of the book and the invasion fear and indeed at the outbreak of hostilities Churchill then at the Admiralty told his aids to find Childers and employ him as an advisor.

No doubt over this next year the book will be turned into a TV series or such like.

The cloud has meant that we have seen some rather spectacular sunsets as we head out to the various bars along the beach for a sundowner. This is the view that greets us over the first beer

Sundowner Phu Quoc

Actually it wuld be rather nice to watch the sun go down from one of thesestrandkorbe

they are called strandkorbe and are a two person  beach chair made of wicker that are only found on the German North Sea coast. Very comfortable and of course provide great protection from the wind on three sides.

Carruthers ( that would have to be his surname wouldn’t it ?) the hero of The Riddle must have seen loads of them as he sailed around spying on the German Imperial Navy.

North Country Blues

Bob Dylan was singing about the rust belt in the USA but my lament is for Chiang Mai where we arrived yesterday afternoon.

Back in Bangkok that morning we hit the breakfast session at the Siri Sathorn. Now I don’t normally go on about hotels but this one is special. Thais are naturals for the service industry but like all people in the business they need to be trained otherwise they are just eager amateurs. The people at Siri certainly have been trained and are superb.

Breakfast didn’t disappoint rows and rows of gleaming silver bowls stretched out almost as far as the eye could see. it was a feast and all included. Paradise. We shall return.

Air Asia were their confusing selves again. lots of announcements about trolleys in the cabin and apart from a rather strange one selling Air Asia memorabilia  nothing appeared. They do seem to have got the airport buttoned up though at Bangkok because security were not only stopping people with water but with any food. We passed rows of Germans sitting on the tables by security eating their way through their sandwiches rather than toss them in the bin. I saw two Brits do the same at Bari the other day when they were stopped with wine in their hand luggage. Both uncorked their bottles and over about 30 minutes drank the contents much to amusement of the italian security staff.

The local papers here yesterday were full of the fact that growth has slowed considerably in Thailand and is constantly being forecast downwards . Various reasons are given by the economists but certainly this Asian tiger is no longer roaring. There is talk of tripling the cost of alcohol to match prices in the moslem state of Malaysia which had a few of the expats ranting into their beers the night before. The ministry is also looking at how to tax mobile apps which they see as lost revenue . However it seems the rice subsidy paid to try to improve the lot of the rural farmer is where many would like to see savings. Most agree it hasn’t worked and achieved none of the objectives. Maybe the E.U. should have a look at the compelling reasons in the papers here for ending farming subsidies and yes that was a pig that went past my 5th floor window.

After the delights of the Siri Sathorn any hotel was going to be a disappointment and the Grand Napat filled the function to the full. Ripped off in the bar but no one willing to recognise it and an attempt to rip us off with the Tuk Tuk ride into town . By chance it started to rain and do I mean rain . More the heavens opened and down it came in bucket loads. Any thought of riding around in an open Tuk Tuk was certainly forgotten by us though not the hotel reception who tried so hard to talk us out of getting a real taxi. This old Asia hand for once stuck to his guns and after 30 mins the taxi arrived. God knows what commission the receptionist is on with the tuk tuk company but he used every scare tactic in the book.

We ate at The River Market and it really was great even though outside the river was almost invisible through the torrent of rain descending . Without our trusty taxi driver Kob who luckily I offered to pay on the return run  turning up quite how we would have got back who knows. We could probably have made a fortune just driving the other diners back to their hotels as well.

Still we now have a driver and wheels so are set for a few temples . The internet in the Grand Napat is as tired as the hotel so posting could be fun over the next few days.

Let’s hope it stops raining so we can get out and about. I feel a bit like the lyrics in the Alan Sherman song Camp Granada

A Lunchtime in Bangkok

If you are waiting for glorious pictures of the temples of Bangkok don’t hold your breath please. I did the temple tour in 1989 . The temples haven’t changed but the numbers visiting certainly has. The main temple is now the 17th most visited site in the world. I won’t be adding to their numbers on this trip.

Instead I went off to see where the Thais have lunch around this area and found one place that seems to typify the rest. A barn of a place and packed to the gunnels from 11.30 a.m. until about 1.15 p.m. for the lunch break. Thais seem to spend a great deal of time eating yet are almost all stick thin which is somewhat depressing . It is chilli hot food with lots of soup based dishes and very little meat.

This place has food stalls around three sides of the corrugated roofed building . Here you order your food of choice or multi choice.

Food Stalls BKK

Then you go find somewhere to sit clutching your purchase as you look. Uniformed girls help out by moving people and chairs to accommodate the steady stream of eaters looking for somewhere and elderly wrinkled old guys ( ex wokers too old to stir fry ) clean the debris away and clean the tables. It is run like a military operation and given the numbers it needs to be.

Eating Area

Fancy something to drink ? Then you head off to a centre island where the drinks are dispensed

Drink Centre BKK

Finally having had your fill of food and swilled down your juice what else is there to do during lunch but some retail therapy. Well they have that covered too. at the other end of the vast hall are stalls selling mainly female stuff, make up, shoes ,clothes and baby clothes.

Clothes BKK

The stalls are for females because the vast majority of eaters are female. indeed as you walk the streets at lunchtime it is really noticeable that 80% of the people around you are 20 something girls all in office clothes. It is rather like Washington D.C. in the 1970s when  the government secretary jobs were female and women out numbered men about 5 to 1 at that time. The British Airways office was in a building that housed some of the World Bank and 90% were female doing jobs that computers do now. The BA office was on the third floor and a bachelor colleague at the time managed every week day to get a date from a girl in the elevator during the short 2 floor ride up. Sunday was his day off when he made another 6 day batch of a stew he called Boef a La Jardinaire to wow them with at dinner at his apartment. I guess the Thai males here are doing the same with Pad Thai in the freezer.

We are near the old red-light district of Patong where years ago there were hundreds of girly bars on the ground floor and live sex shows on the first floor. That has all changed and only about 20 now survive. There are however quite a few of the elderly  western guys still  wandering the streets like some kind of flotsam from another era . They are now sad people with hangdog looks and I guess the life they came for years ago has now passed them by. You meet them in bars around the area moaning about most things but determined never to go “home”.

The trade for men to find Thai girls for their holiday  these days is more internet based I would imagine but is obviously still alive and well. Lots of, to me, rather sad old fellows with stupidly young girls hanging on to their arms. The bigger business seems now to be the gay scene.

This trade in girls mainly from the poor north of the country is one aspect of Thailand that leaves a very sour taste in the mouth and in certain areas like the truly awful resort of Pattaya it is totally off putting.

Last night in our very luxurious but only £75 a night one bedroom apartment we ate fresh salad and cold meats washed down with a few bottles of Leo beer. Around the corner there is a Tops supermarket which seems a little like Whole Foods in the USA. All very fresh and no additives etc. Each of their locations has a large salad bar in the centre and you pick up your container and walk around filling it with salad goodies. Made a nice change for once from Thai food.

Loi Krathong

Where do the days go ? No sooner had we checked in than here we are checking out again. seems incredible that a week has gone by. Back to Ban Krut railway station taking bets on how late the train would be . Still it wasn’t raining so at least we wouldn’t get wet waiting in the open air waiting room by the ticket desk.

Ban Krut Train Station

Okay it’s not Paddington Station or Grand Central but it does have a certain rustic charm. We bought bananas from a stall nearby and were ready for the long wait. the train after all had left the deep south at 10.15 that morning on it’s way to us. 2.20 came and went but then an announcement seemed to galvinize the locals waiting into frenzied activity and down the track she came.

Train arrives Ban Krut

 

This one was just 2 carriages instead of the 3 coming down so all very cosy. No I’m not going through it all again but just to add one thing. Each carriage apart from having one stewardess also has one cleaner. His/her job is to collect empties and then clean the carriage floor every 20 mins or so. Amazing really in this day and age to have someone with a mop and bucket keeping everything nice. She is supposed to do the loos as well but that bit has evidently dropped of the job description list of duties and who can blame her !

We were rocking along almost on time for an hour or so and then stopped first for a long third class only train to crawl by going the other way ( single track) which at least explains how most of the population gets around the country but rather segregates don’t you think ?

Then again to allow the Eastern and Oriental Luxury train to canter by. This very smart train travels from Singapore to Bangkok and back carrying passengers in olde worlde luxury at a fair old price. At the rear as they went past is an observation area and I was able to raise a hand ( honestly) to them as they gathered to see how the other half live.

By the time we arrived in Bangkok we were 45 minutes late which to be honest was far better than I thought we might have been.

There were however no taxis which was amazing given that about 80% of the traffic in Bangkok seems to be taxis. An English guy in front of us explained that it was the Loi Krathong festival and the whole of the river area was in gridlock. Eventually one bowled up and refused to take the English guy as his hotel was alongside the river. He gave way to us and we piled in . Silom Road I said in my now fluent Thai having had a week in an hotel where no one spoke english. Where ? he asked so i had to show the piece of paper. 100 baht he said. Meter I counter being an old Asia hand. Get out of the cab he said look at the line. 100 baht the old Asia hand muttered feeling rather small.

Five minutes later we were outside the Siri Sathorn Apartments and i was handing over the note to the grinning cab driver.

We thought we would give these apartments a try and they are superb . Large one bedroom, living area , separate kitchen places with everything very new and modern.

The really great thing is the breakfast voucher can be used for the lunch or dinner buffet it you don’t feel like breakfast. Now that is clever I think.

We found a bar around the corner and ordered the beers. The lady owner was making very ornate baskets made with banana leaves and placing a candle in each one. She explained to us that when she closed she and all her family were going down to the river to launch they baskets after lighting the candles. Why I asked. We Buddhists believe that we confess all our sins to the basket and then set it afloat and it sails away with all of this years sins in it.

I have to say that beats the confessional and you get a trip to the river too. Mind you she then told us that over 300,000 people were down there

The Wheels on the Train

go round and round.

So last sunday morning we were deposited by taxi outside Hua Lampong Train Station in Bangkok. The train didn’t go till 0805 hrs so we were early, a very unusual thing in our household. The night before I asked the ever friendly reception staff at The Cabochon Hotel how long it would take by cab to the station. The three of them considered the question and then came up with , one hour, 30 minutes and 15 minutes. Sunday morning I said, yes but all stuck to their guns. 7 kms by road I said but they were not for turning. take the Skytrain and the metro said the guy in charge. you will carry the bags I asked and we were back on taxis . In the end we went with 7a.m. and 10 minutes later we were on the platform ! Mind you the cab driver obviously freed on a Sunday morning from the usual gridlocked traffic system decided to show us his Sebastian Vettel aggressive driving techniques and we took on all challengers including a few buses in our dash there. Still 80 baht ( £1.60 ) seemed a bargain and we had time for a coffee before the train left.

At 8 a.m. there was no sign of the train as we and crowds of others stood looking expectantly up the line. This train goes all the way south to Surat Thani arriving there at about 5 p.m. so I expected something pretty substantial to come in with loads of carriages and some huge engine at the front. I was surprised when in chugged a three carriage little diesel train. you know the ones with the diesel engine under each carriage that do little commuter routes in the UK ? Can’t be it I said knowledgeably to Geraldine they must be changing the platform . No one else shared my view and belongings were being gathered as it came to an halt.

I don’t know if you have seen Dr. Zhivargo  but there is a scene in that when the train arrives at Moscow station and people start to rush to the doors to get on the cattle trucks . This was like that. You would have had no idea we all held tickets with seat numbers already reserved. People were throwing children up the stairs lobbing suitcases up there anything to get themselves on the train. It is of course infective and I almost threw Geraldine into carriage 1. Our reserved seats were taken by a couple of Scots who seemed reluctant to move to their allocated seats and spent the rest of  trip glaring at us from two rows back as if some how we had managed to get one up on them.

The train is air conditioned and each carriage has about 74 seats plus a galley with a stewardess . The ground staff load a microwave into each one and a load of pre packed food and by 8.15 we were on our way.

Like almost every main line station route out of any huge city this one is equally depressing. Rows and rows of shanty town wooden huts and small houses nestle right up to the track . Each however had a satellite dish on the roof. Quickly the trolley was out and coffee and water served . Not bad for £10 I said to Geraldine . Rail fares are cheap in Thailand.

The train cantered through downtown Bangkok stopping at unpronouncable stations and a few more passengers joined . Then once in the open countryside like the Master of the Titanic the driver obviously said to his three colleagues ( there is also some overmanning on Thai railways)” let her have her legs lets see what she can do first officer” or the equivalent in Thai and we increased our speed to some 45 MPH .

We chugged through endless paddy fields as the train slipped further and further behind schedule ( Thai trains don’t run on time) . Lunch was wheeled out on the trolley and everyone got an airline style meal cooked in the microwave. The carriage is  set up 2 seats by 2 seats and everyone has a fold  down tray except the bulkhead seats. No guesses where we were seating. Bulkheaders balance their meal, glass of water, hot coffee etc on their knees as the train sways along down the track. We declined the meal as I tend to drop that kind of thing according to Geraldine. The Scots continued to bore holes in our backs even though we clearly had the infirior seats. Train to Baan Krut

The view from the back and you can see the bulkhead seats, on the right is the galley.

The air conditioning is vicious and if you do the trip take a sweater to wear. in fact the only thing that prevents the entire train going down with frost bite is the that it only really works when the train is bouncing along at full tilt. Any change in engine pitch like slowing down or speeding up is clearly too much for the system and it goes off. Thank god I have to say as I hadn’t got a sweater and had no hot food to help either having declined the meal . Mind you I dread to think the mess I might have made.

By Hua Hin we were 40 minutes behind schedule. Loads got off there but all the seats were quickly replaced this time by mainly back packing foreigners heading south to Phuket and Ko Samui  I was somewhat amazed to find that Baan Krut our destination was still 90 minutes away. Where on earth had I managed to book. Still they said in the blurb it was unspoilt I said to a sceptical Geraldine.

The loo is not an hole in the floor but flushing is by using an hose which on a train rocking and rolling south can lead to a  rather wet pool like floor and fitments. Add to this the male propensity to stand even though the train is leaping about and it is probably not somewhere for girls to go.

the loo

But hey I’ve seen a lot worse than this one haven’t you ?

We arrived at Baan Krut 60 minutes late and were met by two hotel staff and stacked into the back of a small truck .The town was almost non existent and soon we were out on an empty road heading for the Ban Montra Resort ( can I find them ).

As we arrived a taxi was pulling up and from it came an Aussie and his Thai wife . ” Where the expletive are we ?” he asked . “jesus Christ this is the bloody back of beyond.” They had booked it thinking it was just outside Hua Hin and instead of the 3,000 baht they had agreed with  the cab guy in Bangkok he now wanted 8,000 baht ( £170 ). More good old Aussie expletives and they and we were checked in. The four of us were the only people in the hotel as it turned out. Well they said it was quiet.

Internet

On my other blog I do a fair amount of complaining about internet speeds and simple access to the net down in Puglia. Well The Cabochon Hotel in Bangkok really was no better than some of the off days the net has there. Watching paint dry comes to mind and after getting the last post away I was unable to get enough connection to do anymore.

I had hoped that our journey south might improve things and I could catch up but we have been without connection until today .

The Cabochon tries to capture the era of the old large houses in Bangkok circa 1920 with lots of teak and ceiling fans. Fondly I imagined that perhaps the service too would reflect that bygone era and so with hope in my heart I went to reception to ask about trains south from Bangkok. I had said to Geraldine that I would probably tell them what I wanted and they would despatch a lad to the train station to queue and collect the tickets while we enjoyed the rather fine roof top pool.

Cabochon hotel BKK Roof top pool

The very friendly reception guy listen to my request with interest and  turned away to I thought issue a stream of instructions to a likely lad nearby finishing with the Thai equivalent of “and make it snappy”.

How wrong I was instead he reached for a skytrain map and a map of the metro. He spread them on the desk and pointed out where we were and how far we had to walk. Then where we could change on to the metro and finally , proudly pointed to the main railway station and said that is where you buy tickets. To  try to save a little face for my return to our room I did ask if there might be someone around who might complete the task. Ah he said we used to be able to make bookings for guests on the Thai Train website but no longer. As I went back into the elevator I unkindly thought that maybe they still could if they had a decent internet connection.

So up the steep stairs we went and found the Skytrain. Actually thinking about that they would be steep wouldn’t they if you call your train line by that name. Clutching my new map I went to the ticket desk and asked for the connecting stop. It seems you can’t interchange tickets between the two. Rather strangely they gave me change to go back to the ticket machine with to get the ticket.

The connection was easy and on the metro the ticket office issues the tickets rather than give you a fist full of change. So 20 minutes later we emerged from the bowels of the metro up into the main train station Hua Lampong .

Now I have to tell you that unlike many other main train line station experiences this really was a piece of cake. The information desk is positioned almost in front to the main entrance making them and you unable not to link up. The super friendly Thai attendent asked where we were going and sent us to a window that had no line in front of it. in fact almost all the windows had not a soul in front of them. The clerk happily printed off the tickets , went through all the information on it with us and we were heading back down to the metro 5 minutes after emerging from it.

That night faith was also restored when we found several small streets off our main drag filled with stalls selling Thai food with the bonus of an happy hour bar almost alongside.

Street Stall

I know lousy quality but I had been to happy hour and am using one of the oldest iPhones known to man.

Our room at the Cabochon has a balcony unlike the more more swanky rooms that use the space as an enclosed sitting room . Ours overlooked the car park for the local Toyota dealer that was at the back of his on street showroom. About 10 people spent their entire day there cleaning the cars and trucks both inside and out. Given that we were still in the throws of the tail end of the Typhoon that did such devastation to the Philippines it seemed an almost pointless task as once they were clean it rained and they started again. However one thing that really upset them was the trees on our side of the fence that dropped their leaves on the cars every time the wind blew and trust me it blew.

By Saturday they had had enough and moved all the cars away which as I sat watching this with my morning cuppa seemed sensible. I of course am however used to Health and Safety. Not these guys, quite quickly up climber a lad with an huge machette to give the trees a going over. no ropes, no luminous jackets, no briefing of al the workers on the dangers of standing under trees being cut etc.  Boy did he make short work of it too though I think if I was 30 feet up a tree with a concrete car park under it hanging on by one hand while hacking and hewing with the other I might have tried to get it done fast. He was a very friendly guy and posed for the camera .

Tree Feller

One Night in Bangkok

The hectic life in Hong Kong has rather precluded any blogging . Suffice to say my daughter and son-in-law did a great job looking after us oldies poor things and the social whirl was exceptional.  I will return to the week in Hong Kong while we while away severn nights down at a coastal resort in Thailand.

So yesterday we boarded an Air Asia flight to Bangkok feeling somewhat hung over after an excellent evening eating Peking duck three ways and then doing the final round of bars in the Soho area .

Air Asia are a rather strange low cost carrier in that whilst their air fares are amazingly cheap when compared to the national carriers of the various S.E. countries their on board offering is completely different. You can order full meals on line if you so wish and there is a choice but also a fee to pay as well. However if you decide not to there is non of the hard sell tactics of say Ryanair nor the constant trolley work of cabin crew on other LCC airlines. Seats are allocated easily at check in as the on line seats are either emergency exit  or the first 7 odd rows  and they try hard to sit you together.

On board the trolleys come out to serve the few that have ordered the full meal and provide them with drinks and then retreat behind the ubiquitous aircraft galley curtain. The non orderers are left to use the call button to summon assistance and drinks ( no alcohol) and snacks are hand carried to your seat on a tray and monies taken. All savagely civilised. One very commercial but quite clever idea they have had is to sell each overhead locker door for advertising. It is actually quite colourful and rather reminds you of sitting on the London underground starring at the ads.

I haven’t been to Bangkok since 1989 having avoided it on my last few visits to Thailand so the drive into town was eye opening. The place like so many other S.E. Asia cities has grown upwards with apartment blocks and office towers sprouting like mushrooms everywhere you look.

We booked the Cabochon hotel as it looks like an old colonial place with lots of character and nicely tucked away from the main streets . It is indeed like a colonial place but was only built last year so though all the furnishings and even the light switches are from old houses the rest of the place works like a 21st century hotel.

Now schadenfreuders amongst you will be delighted to know that just after our arrival ( I have talked before about our effect on the weather in countries worldwide), the heavens opened and it started to rain cats, dogs and anything else that came to hand. We were at the time enjoying the happy hour twofers offered by the hotel ( buy one get one free) and were little concerned until I saw the price of the food in the restaurant. It is always the trouble when you get deals on hotels that are normally expensive as the rest of the clientele barely glance at the menu price as they order whilst the dealers get a certain look of horror and fear on their faces as they pretend to study the food choices. I quickly decided that umbrellas were the solution so off we set to sample the delights of the city.

Now the last time here the problem was finding places that were farang friendly in terms of heat as in the number of chilli in each dish as everywhere served Thai food apart from the odd hotel restaurant. How things have changed. Up and down our part of the Sukanvit Road we went past pizza places, tapas places, burger joints, wine bars, English and Irish pubs serving fish and chips and hundreds of Japanese restaurants.What was as amazing was every place was full of thai locals munching away and swilling down glasses of wine a drink almost unknown here in 1989. The search was exacerbated by the fact that motorbikes and mopeds are allowed to use the pavement as a kind of cycle lane and so you spend more time looking both in front and behind you on the pavement for them. Finally one glanced Geraldine a blow as it went by and with her soaking wet feet, damp trousers and now a bruised arm my quest quickly came to an halt. Enough she said and we repaired to the nearest restaurant. Anything spicy I asked in hope, maybe something Thai. The waiter looked astonished as if we had asked for the crown jewels for nothing. No he said but if you want something with a bit of a kick then try our spaghetti arrabata the chef puts a little dried chilli in it.

All this way from Puglia to Thailand to be offered  an italian dish as the really spicy dish on the menu. Foolishly we declined and ate probably the worst burgers we have ever eaten .  Thai cooks certainly in this restaurant don’t do western food.but clearly no one has told the local patrons who were hoovering it down. Maybe a Thai in London feels the same about Thai food in a Thai place there ?