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Laos & ThailandTravel   Click on images in the post below to view the full-size versions

Laos and Thailand

The Lady Elizabeth and the Lady Margaret inspecting the Wat Longkhun Temple on the opposite bank of the Mekong from Luang Prabang, Laos. "When the coronation of a King in Luang Prabang was pending, it was customary for him to spend three days in retreat at the temple."
Margaret in the jungle of Laos, above the waterfall below
The waterfalls at Tat Kuang Si some 10 kms from Luang Prabang, note the "limpid opal-blue pools". Great for swimming in.
Margaret, Elizabeth and Christian, having just taken the ferry across the Mekong from Luang Prabang
The Mekong River through the palm trees at Luang Prabang.
Painting of giant fish attacking shipwrecked sailors in the Wat Langkhun Temple
Flights in SE Asia
a flight
Another flight
This is proper travel, walking across the tarmac, no fallopian tube into the terminal
The Wat Pho, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok, Thailand
Wat Phra Kaew, Bankkok
Dusk over Wat Pho, home of the Reclining Buddha, Bangkok
The cliche, with guide book to remember where we were
The reclining Buddha at War Pho, Bangkok, Thailand
Detail from Wat Phra Kaew, not the couple top left.
Mangrove shrubs on Railay Beach, Hal Railay, near Krabi, Thailand
Hat Tham Phra Nang Beach, Railay, at Dawn. We arrived last night by local speed boat, there was no road access. We only discovered this when we arrived at night. and had to take a spray soaked local open speed boat across a pitch dark sea clutching our luggage before struggling up a sandy beach.
Box art; two icons of shell fragments honouring the "genus locus" of the place
One of the few decent portrait photographs I have taken, lady selling food on one of the canals or Klongs in Bangkok
Maya Bay, Ko Phi Phi Ley, on our first visit 2009. The site of the Famous film "The Beach" starring Leonardo di Caprio.
the same bay 8 years later, destroyed by tourism. The bay has since been closed to all tourism. Please see end of post for more photos of Phi Phi and Hat Maya beach.
Simon & Margaret on Maya Beach
An idyllic unspoilt beach, 30 minutes walk from where we were dropped off by boat from Krabi.
The beach at Phuket,
Another classic cliche beach, great beach-combing. Most of the boats were owned by the local "Sea Gypsies"
Breakfast on Hal Railay beach, near Krabi but inaccessible by vehicles
Beach-combing, sea shells meet glue gun
Flower of a ginger plant
not quite sure
A carnet de Voyage, collage of ephemera, tickets and bills etc.
another carnet de voyage
The upgraded boarding pass!
The brochure and map of "The Beach"
And the Bond film "Man with a Golden Gun" The advertising power of an international film
The Royal Palace in Bangkok, note the lovely contrast of architectural style; wester facade and oriental roof
Palace today
Stupas in Bangkok
Collage of Maya beach, the advertising cliche and the daily reality
The first carnet de voyage enlarged

A Holiday

January 2015

HOLIDAY 2015

!1

Simon & Margaret de Mare

Travels in South East Asia 2015

In seat 13G on flight no. BA 9 to Bangkok on 27 January. Siting in world traveller plus, those extra 6 inches are vital on a 12 hour flight.

It is 10 minutes to take-off, that magic moment of escape, the manic move is over and renovations in the very capable hands of Heba, and not forgetting Alex coping with the broadband.

Check in, security and passport control quick and efficient. Survived the ritualistic gauntlet of shops in the terminal, duty free whiskey and sprays of perfume, “Ponging up” ,New Scientist and Grazia, a treat of smoked salmon and wine at terminal 5 Seafood Bar operated by Caviar House & Prunier

We take off, sucked up like a spoon under a flowing tap. Awaiting the first drink reading the rather old fashioned In Flight comic. Interesting quote about wandering a city finding “the untidy fragments of older worlds”. Straight back to wandering Alexandria at night, all those years ago.

A pair of bloody marys’ , a Duck meal, and 9 hours 56 minutes to go. The slightly tatty 20 year old BA Boeing 777 elicited “ we are all old birds”, from the air crew. Rather sums up the old country, embarrassing when compared to Air Asia or Emirates Air. But it is direct!

See all or part of six films; Most Wanted Man, Dawn of Planets of the Apes, Jersey Boys, The Rewrite, The Expendables, and finally Monument Men, landed just before the end, so will never know! but missed a nights sleep.

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Wednesday

Through immigration with no queue but then the agony of the Carousel, is our luggage coming, is our holiday ruined, should have packed a change of clothes in the wheelie. But finally the ribbon bedecked suitcase and the purple one appear. A fixed price taxi to the Four Seasons, we deserve it. Shellshocked but arrived to a bit of air-conditioned orchid splattered international hotel.

Swim under palms but overshadowed by new multi storey blocks of flats. Elizabeth and Christian arrive and we taxi to the famous Seafood Market and Restaurant, ‘If it swims we have it”. More Butlin’s than ethnic, we choose our fresh vegetables and live fish which are taken to the front kitchen for stir frying and grilling. Surprisingly good and only £20 per head including beer.

A taxi to the dreaded Patpong Street, for handbags and humping, the latter a fantasy in the minds of sad middle aged men watching young dancing girls gyrating around polls. An extraordinary contrast; family stalls and voyeurs. But the sex trade is nothing like it was 35 years ago, the Thais are making a serious effort to play down this reputation.

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Thursday

Next morning we are late, facing a rather irate Elizabeth we leave for the magnificent temple complex of What Pho, featuring the famous giant reclining Buddha, and the colonnades with 394 Buddha images. Lovely detail includes a number of mini mountain landscapes called Khao Mor, rock gardens with native plants, Buddhas, and lingums. Do micro mountain with dried plants and a buddha in a box, dedicated to Wat Pho.

Interesting article in the Bangkok Post [January 29, 2015] regarding an American envoys comments denouncing the introduction of martial law by the National Council for Peace and Order following the May 22 military coup. The deputy Foreign Minister said the criticism “ left a wound in Thais’ hearts”. He went on to say that “Democracy is about more than elections. Several elements , like rule of law, are required to drive the country forward” and that a recent government critic and former foreign minister was invited for a “attitude adjustment”, great stuff. The Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha is very similar to General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, the growing pains of democracy, as we in the west seem to be passing through it. A classic quote by general Prayut “ If democracy had gone well, the problem would no longer exist, and I would not have stepped in”, the problem appears to be irreconcilable conflict between the political parties.

I remember Herman Kahn’s book referring to the circular nature of democracy. He was a futurist and founder of the Hudson Institute.

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A street lunch by the Tha Tien river boat station on the Chao Phraya River. The boutique hotel run by Mr. Wrigley called Sala Ratana Kosin, it is nearby in one of the few traditional riverside settlements left. Then a Klong cruise in a long boat, along a canal past unkept back gardens of fading villas, clumps of…..palm and frighteningly large monitor lizards sunning themselves. Back into the Chao Phraya we land at the Oriental Hotel , back in time, for tea. See “Then and Now” treatment of old paintings and the hotel today.

Drinks at the extra-ordinary Sky Bar, 64 floors up [245 metres] an open bar perched on the the Lubia Hotel Tower. Health & Safety would tear their hair out if they visited, but great views of a city anywhere. Four cocktails for 2,848 Bhts. A pleasant enough meal at Ban Chiang restaurant. On the way back a 10 pm we passes a crowded open air temple

where .predominately young people presented gifts of wreaths of golden yellow marigolds, bunches of lotus flowers and fruit, and wood elephants, to a golden four faced Buddha figure, accompanied by female dancers in traditional attire. Imagine a incensed mass around a suffering Christ in Piccadilly Circus.

Friday

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Next a travelling day, camera bags from the new CentreWorld mall, more bags! Downtown Bangkok reminds me of Blade Runner or a cartoon modern city, multi level flyovers, Skytrain mass transit and pedestrian walkways. Ruined the city but cheaper than tubes and subways.

Passed coldly modern bar called “Whisgars” with it’s byline “Hello, Let’s get to know each other a little better”

Homage to the giant Naga in the long tubular terminal we fly over other people’s lives to gentle Laos and even gentler Luang Prabang, the ancient Royal capital.

Every time I fly the image of a painting by Jonathan Wateridge ‘ Forest Pool with Wreckage” comes to mind, a crashed airliner in a jungle. See my collage.

We are met by Ivan at the old colonial style Apsara Hotel, who sadly is leaving next day. I am limited to my fried rice , and to bed.

Saturday

The History of Laos is one of a buffer state between powerful neighbours, Thailand to the east and Viet Nam to the west, however the Royal House managed just to maintain some form of independence. The French arrived in mid 19 h century but did not fully colonise Laos until 1897, remaining until 1953. Luang Prebang was regarded by the French expats as “the pearl in the earthly paradise”. Confusion arose, encouraged by the American war in Vietnam The notorious Secret War, 1964 -1975 was run y the CIA to attempt to prevent supplies reaching South Vietnam. The USA supported the King and attacked the communist Pathet Lao dropping 2.2 million tons of explosive on eastern Laos and thePlain of Jars. More than they dropped on North Vietnam and only slightly less than was dropped on Europe in WW2. Finally in 1975 the Americans pulled out, the communist Pathet Lao took over , ejected the King and declared the Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos. The King and Royal Family, after 650 years of rule, were put under house arrest, later they were sent away for “re-education” and died, Echoes of the Russian revolution. Laos began to emerge from its communist isolation in 1994-97.

Luang Prebang avoided the devastation of American bombing, thus maintaining its old traditional and colonial structures and, due to its isolation under the communists, enabled the town to be spared aggressive modernisation, one of the few Asian urban centres to do so. And so far being well protected by its UNESCO listing.

Christian hits the ground running next morning, announcing an explore of the temples on the other bank of the Mekong., having already been out and changed money.

We cross in a long thin traditional boat and climb up the steep river bank to a enchanting little jewel of a temple complex, Wat Longkhun, “set amid bougainvillea and star burst

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Palmyra palms”. The piece de resistance are the beautiful murals in the central “sim”. They feature Buddhist myths, families of elephants, prancing rabbits and a scene depicting a giant fish attacking shipwrecked sailors.See photos. The entrance is guarded by two fierce Chinese Guardians. Find a book on Buddhist myths and cosmology. Photograph of the two Lady’s with their sun umbrellas with the statue of Nang Tholani, again shaded. She is a Buddhist Earth Goddess who, to save Buddha, wrung out her hair to wash away his enemies.

The recommended Tham Sakkalin caves can be missed. The guide points out where looted and damaged Buddhas once where, an inducement of the antiquities trade. The base with a lower arm is all that is left, where is the rest, in some museum store in France!. As the Lonely Planet guide book states “the only remarkable feature here is the inexplicable heat that the cave seems to produce”.

We popped into the unexciting Wat Chomphet and Wat Xieng Maen however the village is charming, the children practice “hallo” but don’t pester, the grownups smile from their shop stalls but don’t “sell”. Tourism has yet to commercialise them, or they are proud and confident enough not to exploit these ‘golden hordes’. lets see how they cope with the impending tidal wave of Chinese tourists. There are already many more than two years ago.

Then Christian insists we visit the Pottery Village, 2.5 kms and an hours walk along an empty dirt road through the dry jungle. We find one pottery making very ordinary large pots. Margaret’s Brother in Law, to whom Christian has been demoted to, is saved by the arrival of an Italian couple in a Tuk-tuk.

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An intersting meal at the Tamnak Lao. I had Khua Maak Kheua Moo, fried egg plant with minced pork, with Khao Phat, the ubiquitous fried rice. Margaret had Tom Chaeow Pa, Luang Prabang spicy fish casserole with eggplants, spring onions, coriander and a small amount of chilli “an unusual and very Lao mix of flavours and ingredients” and Khua Me Lao, stir fried lao noodles with pork, chilli, lime and peanuts, Margaret was the outright winner!

Sunday

Sunday morning dawned with serious admin, which flight to which hotel where and when ? ”but I want” . All driven with four computers very slow slow wifi. With great tact and patience from all arrangements were completed. Lunch at Salt ’n’ Pepper, Christian had Tom Yam Soup with lemon grass, chilli, chicken and onion, Margaret and Elizabeth had Luang Prabang Khaosoi soup, and I had Stir fried glass noodles with bamboo shots ‘sic’ egg and onion, al at 20,000 kips each, £2! All well pleased

They go off for a massage and I change money and wander to the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, and take cliche photos, what no people, boring.

Final admin with travellers tails from two charming American women and off to the Night Market, two long rows of individual stall floor strewn cloths and things, hell on the knees and back, all this bending down. Elizabeth bought one pair of loose cotton trousers, Margaret bought two, I bought three little brass Buddhas for a collage and poor Christian could not find anything to buy.

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Christian is fascinated by the street food market, many photos of smiling Lao girls furiously stir frying for young European “back packers”, and occasional older “trolleys” like us. Margaret buys the famous Kai Phen, Mekong Water Weed and I buy a small plastic bottle of Rice Wine for 50 pence equivalent. Cheaper than water!

A meal at the Coconut restaurant, see enclosed bill, the highlight was the discovery of Lao Whiskey, called Lao Lao. smelt of whisky but tasted more like grappa, but a very good digestive. Alex phoned in much better mood, TV fixed, will soon get internet, translation for …progressing, hole in Park walk ceiling being fixed, can stay longer with Camilla, we relax, she is cool and chilled. Heba is texting progress and calamities, i.e. foot through ceiling, but Heba beautifully in charge and in control.

Monday

It is now Monday morning, 11.07 am, they are all at the Tamarind cookery school, I am typing this under coconut palms on the terrace of the Apsara overlooking the Nam Khan River with the sound of cocks crowing on the other bank and the occasional passing Tut-tut. Very few cars and no flies, warm as a summers day with hazy sun and gentle breeze.

Large butterflies flutter through the tamarind trees and around the banana leaves. behind me the exotic…. flash red and beyond the startling red ginger flower of the…….

Men working on the terraced vegetable patches on the river bank opposite, beans and exotic vegetables. In the wet season the river rises so high as too wash them, and the temporary bamboo bridges, away. See Then & Now treatment.

Finally starting to relax after coping with “The Move”. Confronting 30 plus years of accumulation of Things and their associated memories, “Not Required on Journey”. A yellow ant wandered across the keyboard and two pairs of full figured coloured trousers wandered past, as did a pair of young saffron monks, its a wandering sort of place.

Luang Prebang was declared a World heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995, which hopefully has prevented the town going the same way as Chang Mai, which resembled Luang Prebang fifty years ago. The great question is Luang Prebang protected or aspicated, heritisation hampering progress, a living museum for the tourist seeking a break from their own progress.

The French man Henri Mouhot, the rediscovere of Angkor Wat, called Luang Prabang “a delightful little town”. Sadly he caught a fever here and died in 1861, and is buried here.

Back to possessions; Points;

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We are possessed by possessions, they posses us, though we think we possess them. Who belongs to whom. Maybe we are afraid of belongings, they might

possess us.

Lofts, and storage, are a rod for one’s back. nature abhors a vacuum as does storage space. We express our identity through these stored objects, lacking

an inner confidence. Do Buddhists collect stuff.

We must throw away, contribute to landfill and recycling charities and oxfam, so we can support the economy and employment and the third world

and those less able than us by buying more things. Oh dear, Vance Pakard’s “Conspicous Consumption” has come to haunt me.

Its the collecting, not the collection, that is important. Note my returning of most of my clay pipe collection to the Thames strand. But my stamps, coins, book matches, rock specimens [ note the word specimen, not just any old rock or memory

vehicles], old postcards, and so on.

It is a matter of controlled decluttering, externally and internally. a minimalist approach. Just scan the rest up to the cloud or onto a memory stick,

tomorrows grave good. See Marie Kondo’s book “ The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying; A Simple, effective way to banish Clutter Forever” published by Vermillion at £7.99.

In Theravada Buddhism there are three aspects;

Dukka
Anicca
Anatta
No experience lasts, no object lasts, trying to hod on to an

suffering, unsatisfactoriness the transience of things non essentiality of reality

object, resisting Anicca leads to Dukkha.

It is now midday, two hours of solid typing I have downloaded a bit, like a good shit perhaps. Middle aged couple just sat down for lunch on next table, she in sensible blouse, he with panama hat and sensible shirt, Les Anglais. Package of tourists flood into the Tamarind restaurant next door. Battery running low so will close down for the moment and do a wander.

Back from pleasant simple lunch at Le Cafe Ban Vat Sene of Khao Phad, fried rice with chicken and spring onions with a side of fresh chilli sauce, apply to taste, and skinned tomatoes. That and a coke cost $5.82. We should not really gloat over the low prices. The cafe has an supply of books on Luang Prabang including “An Architectural Journey”

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Margaret, Elizabeth and Christian return excited from their cookery class at the Tamarind, plus spices, red rice and knives. I take Christian to look at the Thats in the Wats, stupas in the temples. Vat Xieng Thong, 1560, is the premier Wat, with its Golden Buddha, 1965, and rare reclining Buddha, 1569. The vihan or sim with its splendid tiered roof and guardian nagas houses the much worshipped golden Buddha surrounded by attendants, and all light up and decorated with plastic flowers. The oldest Wat, Vat Sapsickharam dates from 1481 but most, including the sumptuous golden Vat Sensoukharam date from 1750’s.

We ate at Salt ’n’ Pepper where I had stir fried ginger and chicken with steamed rice. Christian had green curry and the girls Khaosoi.

Teusday

To the simply glorious Kwang Sii waterfalls, even the greatest landscape gardener could not have created this idyllic mix of aquamarine water and jungle green trees. The river rushes over the lip of the jungle clad mountain, down into a series of pools stepping down the hill. Swimming pools of cool water under the canopy of mature liana entangled trees, red blossoms of the Coral Tree float passed, and then falling over the next lip, to the next reed encircled pool.

We clambered up steep path through thick jungle to the top of the falls, Margaret concerned How can we get down, no problem a second easier route. A truly magical sacred place.

Lunch of freshly grilled fish and coconut milk and Tut Tut back the 25 kms , via rice paddies and teak forests.

Whilst they had another massage I changed money and snaped sunset over the Mekong, with 20 others. Thought, I just love a good log, in praise of trees.

Now rushing off for supper at the Tangor, a fusion restaurant run by a French man. We had excellent Civiche, must try with raw mackerel.

Wednesday

A glorious mosey up the Mekon in a small long boat, just the four of us, two hours up stream past jungled lined banks, occasional huts hiding behind the lush bamboo, through muddy brown swirling river and humped hills furry with trees. Maybe hiding the mythical Naga, a protective dragon fish popular in Laos.

A “hold the moment”, so unspoilt, no roads or concrete houses in sight unchanging from when the French first came up here in 1865. Eleven years before Major General George Custer and his two brothers, Boston and Thomas, were killed at the Battle of Little Bighorn. The question; unspoilt or primitive. As they improve their infrastructure dual carriageway roads will follow the river and ruin our “one day” view. Suddenly around the bend a longboat park of groups visiting the Cave of Thousand Buddhas in the Pak Ou caves. A brief detour up the Nam Ou, forests coming down on each bank, explorers!. Back for lunch on a moored

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boat by small “unspoilt” village of Ban Pak Ou. I had Laap Pa, raw Mekong fish fillet pounded with grilled eggplant and flavoured with mints and scallions. The others had Fish Tomyam, mekong fish soup flavoured with spice lemon grass, onions, kaffir lime leaves, mushrooms, ginger. Back on board to the whisky village, Ban Xang Hay, one incredibly primitive distillery , see photos, and street lined with weavers making beautiful scarves for $1 to $3, charming smiling women, and a very colourful Wat

Now aperitif at the Apsara, a large Beerlao for Christian and me, cocktails for the girls. Christian is doing his daily muttering to his computer checking his investments. The girls are on their iPhones, “whatsapping” furiously with Margaret trying to re-organise her birthday party as camilla wants to change the dates. Now off to the night market for the girls to buy trousers before supper at the tamarind which was overrated and a bit pretentious

Next day cookery school where we stirred fried furiously, and tasted to outcome. My stomach then gave up and for the next two days all I saw was the room’s ceiling with its ageing fan and slightly textured off white tiles on the loo floor. Delhi Belly, Ramses Revenge, now Lao Tummy; the joys of travel! We fly out tomorrow. The girls are having a Korean style Lao barbecue over the road. Each table has a metal lined clay pot set into the table, and filled with hot charcoal. A tin rimmed “hat” is placed onto the pot, into the rim is poured a bouillon into which vegetables and noodles are cooked whilst on the inverted bowl of the hat slivers of chicken is cooked on pork fat. Christian and I have retired hurt.

Sunday

Immodium discussions over breakfast, recovering. Got up early on a misty morning to see the ritual giving of Alms to the saffron robed Monks, now a serious much photographed tourist event.

Early Morning points to ponder
Child like pleasure gained from shopping, “I shop therefore I am”

Refusal to take responsibility for actions, delegating to an all pervasive god and a strong leader.

Role of the camera, and more recently i-phone, in modern tourism

Souvenirs, from Oxfam destined to utility

Can I learn to relax and chill on holiday, its not all a learning experience to be photographed, photos edited and commented upon thus. Not helped by all

pervasive aspect of wi-fi driven internet, no escape.

The laid back gentle Laotian, how and why. Cheerful with low western style expectations, influence of Buddhism perhaps. In Luang Prabang no

omnipresent police, no car horns, no rowdiness or rudeness, no flies or mosquitos, no barking dogs, no begging children, a gentle smiling hallo.

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“The Vietnames plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow, and the Laotians listen to it grow” French colonial saying.

Bicycle to Wat……full of ageing peaceful Buddhas then to hotel for a rest before flight to Bangkok. Arrive at Camilla’s chicly elegant Sukhothai Hotel, “ I do like a bit of five star” . The party is impressed. The room has a mirrored bathroom, echoes of Versaille, and magic loo that washes front and rear and then dries!. Mood lighting with dimmers everywhere, vast double bed and all the associated accoutrements or collectibles. Off immediately to the Namsaah Bottling Trust restaurant where Camilla had booked us a table. An old colonial house elegantly if darkly restored up a narrow side street, which we found with difficulty, it defeated one poor taxi driver. Food was stylish, Margaret had salmon tatar in mini tacos with chilli mayonnaise, salmon-tartar wonton tacos followed by beautifully presented tune stakes on coconut sauce and baby Chinese cabbage, Bok Choy, as if growing out of the white sauce. Christian had rock lobster, most impressed, praise indeed. Elizabeth had beef red curry and I had pop corn prawns, interestingly sweet and sour but heavy followed by pork belly, interesting but a step to far for a sensitive stomach. A digestive whisky in the water bar and off to the many views of a pale slightly overweight european male,oh dear!

Next evening and we are coming in to Krabi.

Monday

To one of the best hotel breakfasts ever, everything for every nationality. An extra kilo, why worry. Off to the psychedelic multi coloured decorative extravaganza that is Wat Phra Kaew. Every Wat, Stupa, hall is covered from head to foot with small coloured tiles, subtle greens blues and greys, vibrant reds and gold. We pay homage to the famous Emerald Buddha, surprising small this 13 th. C statue is perched high up on golden tiers and surrounded by golden buddhas. It does have a certain magnetism, aided by the fact that photography is forbidden. You have to look at it, you can’t “take it away” in your camera. Christian complained about the smell of feet, we discussed different smell sensitivities.

Lunch and a quick bag at Silom Market then to the airport for the late flight to Krabi.

Panic, Elizabeth discovers that we have to take a boat to the hotel at Railay and is told it is too late, being 10 pm. It is on a peninsular with no road access. Taxi driver says it is ok, so off to Ao Nang. We stop at a pitch black beach, a long tail boat driver agrees to take us, we wade out to his boat carrying our luggage and sped out into the black sea, in a state of slight hysterics. Fifteen minutes later and spray soaked we see the light of the hotel nestling at the foot of steep cliffs. Carry our luggage onto the beach , the boat leaves, 8 pieces of very urban suitcases sitting for lonely on a dark sandy beach. We check-in, find the “lost” whisky in my cabin baggage.

Tuesday

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It is like Christmas morning. One has arrived at night and it is now getting light, I am lying in bed with the beach as my stocking, I sneak out of bed and go down to the empty beach, warmly lit by the dawning sun. Never loose ones’ childlike enthusiasms. {quote}

Incredible scenery, high grey limestone cliffs, streaked red, sore up from the vegetation fringed beach. Big leaved Indian almond trees lean over the newly racked sand. The cliffs remind me so much of the classic Chinese paintings of trees clinging to near vertical rocks. But there again it is the same karstic geology as at the famous Guilin in China, recently visited by Christian and Elizabeth. There they call them “sugarloaf” shaped , here they are called “Dragons teeth” Here that are evergreens and palms clinging to the steep sides rather than pines.{See montage}.

We meet for an adequate buffet breakfast with the rest of the world, young Swedish families, middle aged French couples, large Russians and diminutive Chinese. Off to explore Railey Beach east and west, there are upwards of twelve small cabana style and low rise 4 star hotels squashed together on a broad sand spit between two towering cliffs, and one five star high security ghetto. the Rayavadee Resort. We are on the sandy sun setting west beach, the funky cafes are on the muddy mangrove spotted west beach.

I am attempting to control my beach combing urge to pick up and collect bits, just cowrie shell fragments for Margaret’s tassels and a few choice pieces of tropical driftwood, found a lovely small well worn teak plank which would make a lovely chopping board, utility is the new thing, the justification. No more tropical seedpods, coral fragments, grotesque pebbles

A simple lunch then I explore Phra Nang beach with its caves, spirit houses, full of totemic penises.

Much hilarity as couples photograph each other in front on them, one is four foot high. After much discussion we settle on a fish meal.

Wednesday

Off on a day trip to the Five Islands just off the coast inc ; Poda Island, Tup Island, Si Island, Taming Island. Thirty five tourists packed like immigrants into a noisy long tail boat, we visit beautiful if very crowded island beaches, then some good snorkelling. The coral is surviving, lots of fragments of dead stag horn coral but plenty of lumpen brain corals, blue coral, and plate like mushroom coral. Plenty of fish, including long nosed square damsel fish, some with brown and silver a stripes, others speckled with black faces and brown tails, and butterfly fish with black and yellow vertical strips and flowing dorsal fin.

Swim on Poda Island in the clearest of aquamarine water looking out to the teeth like mountains of Railley and little islands in between, a “hold the moment” in the butterfly net of memory. So un buddhist.

Maybe we should have hired our own boat to avoid the crowds as Christian suggested. Always difficult when two or more are gathered together to make decisions .

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But the islands are beautiful, covered in lush green trees and tall palms, they sprout up out of the blue sea, some just pillars of rock with green hair. Others with surrounding white sandy beaches, a true holiday brochure cliche. Some of the cliffs are littered with long stalactites

Sitting on our balcony with the six o’clock beer, Margaret is having white wine. It overlooks the pool with the sea in the distance. I really must start my “hotel room with a view” series of watercolours. I am falling into the trap of “less of more” rather than “more of less” and photographing rather than looking. Must redo that collage of camera lenses replacing faces .

Spectacle monkeys in the trees, macaque monkeys round the corner. Off for fish bbq at the beach side restaurant, we have to buy wine and beer at a local shop, the hotel does not serve alcohol. getting closer to Muslim part of Thailand with its secessionist tendencies. The Australian woman in L-P said that the Malayasians were massing troops on the border and immediately the Thai King dies and Thailand sinks into civil war between the urban reds and the royalist yellows they will invade. Their view is that the two southern islamic provinces were originally part of the Malay states and the English gave them to Thailand.

A final beer sitting on mats on the lamp lit beach watching the stars. Thursday

Early morning walk to Phranang Beach, walking into a living cliche of a holiday experience, a totally empty soft white sandy beach, [no litter or seaweed] fringed by vivid green mangrove trees overhanging the sand. Clear calm blue sea stretching away to the thumbs of rock jutting out of the sea.

Off on another trip, this time by speed boat to the two islands of Kho Phi Phi via Yung and Bamboo Islands. Elizabeth and Christian could not face another day on a crowded boat to crowded beaches. I had lovely snorkels in the warm womb like sea, alone with Multicoloured Parrot Fish, pinks, yellow greens and pale blue, Irridescent greeny blue wrasse with their yellow cycle tails, half and half fish, front light rear dark, thin fish light underneath and dark on top with 3 pairs of 2 white spots, like a domino. And always accompanied by shoals of inquisitive Sergeant Major fish, alternate yellow silver and black vertical stripes..

Pleasant lunch in a large industrial size cafeteria in the back streets of Phi Phi town. Now horribly spoilt with large boat loads of visitors being disgorged into tatty cafe and tourist tat shops of “local “ crafts. It has been “Benidormed”, a result of poor and corrupt planning following its virtual destruction by the Tsunami in 2004.

The iconic Maya Bay of DiCaprio fame was drowning under tourist speed boats, the beach looked like a refugee centre with scores of people waiting to escape the island. Perhaps in the face of islamic puritans moving up from the south. Swam to a charming little bay to the right of the main bay where people had made piles of rocks into cones, like primitive Buddhas, to please the spirits of this beautiful bay. Extra ordinary the power of a film to “justify’ a place

Back in 45 minutes, 40 kms!

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Now sitting watching the sun set over the Andaman Sea, bikinis and bums, Swedish and Italian.

Next time I go on a sea side holiday I must get an Admiralty chart , the local tourist maps are quite appalling, and a map on an iPhone is not really the real thing.

Came across an article by Kurt Andersen in the New York Washington Post on the 1990’s the best decade ever when we had cell phones but not smart phones “we were not over connected or tyrannised by our devices. Social media had not yet made social life both manically non stop and attenuated”. Tell that to the female members of the family, Facebooking and

Whats’apping continuously.

Friday

Back to my favourite beach Phranang, after watching the sun rises Nut like from the sea. Only time one is aware of the earth whirling through space!!!. This time I have my camera, the beach is empty as the rising sun hits the sides of the sheer cliffs. I swim across to one of the sugar loaves, to find another cave of piled stones. A magic place up there with the empty Penang beach.

Now on the ferry steaming down to Ko Lanta in a rather overcrowded ferry, packed with backpacks and suitcases. We had to carry our cases across the sand into the sea to load them on to long tail boats, then out to the ferry. Luckily crew loaded the cases. Now half way though a two hour trip, poor Margaret is feeling ill, and Elizabeth faintly sea sick, The joys of Travelling.

Survive the scrum as we disembark, Elizabeth finds a taxi and off to Pearl Beach Resort. You win some and you loose some, we seriously lost this one. Small simple cabins, more a caravan site in New Brighton. No swimming pool with a sea a soup of little jelly fish with the occasional pale blue dinner plate. A concrete bathroom with no hot tap to the basin. Just two sockets for the TV and Fridge, so what about our four chargers and M’s hairdryer. Four bare energy saving bulbs in the ceiling. But at least the ac works though it is not that hot.

A short walk through litter to a ramshackle cafe bar. Oh dear, mutual recriminations and the Dewitts incandescent with criticisms. Margaret puts a very positive brave face and I think it is rather fun. But do worry when others are not happy.

Supper on a windy beach and an early night

Saturday

Valentines Day dawns and I get up at 6.30 for the empty beach and an explore down Long Beach, many cowrie shells so have the idea of a shell heart for M, find a nice bit of drift wood and off we go. Find some flowers and wake M at 8.30, she is feeling better. The word “porcelain” is derived from the old Italian word for cowerie shell ‘porcellana’.

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Breakfast fine though the Dewitts find fault with the fruit juice, it is not fresh!

We hire a taxi and set off the explore the Island. An hours long tail boat around the mangrove swamps, all rather Indiana Jones, narrow muddy waterways with thick mangrove roots and trees either side, crabs and mud skipper fish. “Attacked” by monkeys after the food the boatman gives them, they leap into the boat much to the consternation of the girls. Lunch in the rather charming Old Town of Ko Lanta. Margaret shops for bags, presents she assures us. A swim on Kantiang Bay on the south of the island, where we should have gone. Rockier coast with smaller bays and better developments, so much less tatty than the older north where we are. For example “Same Same but Different” beach side restaurant, next to the smart but very pleasant Pimalai Resort and Spa. Very similar to the development pattern of Phuket.

The gardens of the hotel had an excellent example of the Monkey Ladder Vine, Entada phaseoloides, much loved by interior decorators in London. It has the longest bean pod and the large seeds are known as Sea Harts or Snuff Box Sea Bean. I remember finding them while beach combing in Kenya, only just threw them away when moving. Had them in a large glass jar next to one full of shells, and another with fossils, and another with rocks, or rather geological specimens. Must see “World Guide to Tropical Drift Seeds and Fruits” by Charles Gunn and J.V. Dennis, also www.beachbeans.com for drift seed collectors. Oh the joy of Google.

Every evening the mango trees next to our room are invaded by a troop of charming Dusky Langur monkeys with their distinctive white circles around their eyes. They are often called spectacle monkeys

Glue M’s heart and make a Magritte meets Shells collaged face which I give to the bar.

Sunday

Now tuesday morning sitting under a Tamarisk tree with a cool breeze overlooking the aquamarine Andaman sea, unfortunately with a number of sunbathers in the foreground, all bikinis and Marcel t shirts. The others are having a Thai massage in the adjoining shack. The coast on Long Beach is dominated by these shackeries, bamboo with palm frond bars, massage parlours and mini marts, with small bungalow developments behind, all very funky. Margaret loves it but Elizabeth and Christian are none to sure. A day “at leisure” with a mid afternoon two hour taxi to Krabi Airport, having checked out not easy to do anything except chill. Somehow or other my suitcase just gets heavier, now 20 kilos, and have not bought anything unlike dear Margaret.

Sunday we took a longtail boat snorkling around the Island of Koh Ha all to ourselves. Identified Regal Angelfish, Redtail Butterfly fish, Moon Wrasse, Bicolour Parrot fish, Neon Damsel, Two Spot Snapper, Marbled Sea Cucumber, Blue Sea Star starfish , Crown of Thorn starfish, lobster, softshell crabs and the ubiquitous Sergeant Majorfish. Then two hours

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fishing where Christian and I caught one each and the boatman and assistant caught 12. They were much pleased as it was enough to feed two families.

We are very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the hotel restaurant, lightly cooked barracuda and excellent fish and chips Thai style.

Monday

Hire a taxi to take us to the National Park at the southern tip of the island of Ko Lanta. A lovely forest walk through the jungle past magnificent tall trees with massive buttressed trunks, prickly rattan palms and big dark sugar palm with their massive fronds. total lack of birds but saw a little flying lizard and a larger monitor lizard. The flying lizard, it actually glides, is a Draco of the genus agamid and is called locally a flying dragon.

The cliche Bamboo beach with its bar and white empty beach is deemed unsuitable because the low tied has exposed dark rocks, the thing the hotel brochures fail to show. Have lunch at the gloriously named “Samesame but Different”, named after a popular Thai expression. To a higher beach bar standard we have rather a lot of beer and I again play safe with fried noodles with shrimps, Pad Thai, makes a change from Kao Pad, fried rice with chicken. Margaret has Tom Yum Nam Sai, chilli paste clear soup with fish, Elizabeth has a very disappointing Tom, Kha Kai, coconut milk soup with chicken and slices of galanga, Christian has a sweet and sour. Top of the range bungalow hotel next door, all very landscaped and spread out under mature tress and coconut palms. Find that crinkly creeper or vine, lengths

of which are so popular in England, placed in a large bowl, it has the most extraordinary seed pod, I find an example. Details later.

Serious cocktails at the bar , served by a sweet Ukranian girl Jana and a slightly mad barman. A loud American girl appears, she teaches English in Shanghai, with two men, one from San Francisco is an amateur DJ, recommends the cover group “Caravan Palace”. He works for the city in the recycling dept. Jana recommends Chicken Penang Curry Pizza.

Tuesday
Regular early morning beachcomber and swim with the joggers and walkers, cool and calm

with the sun rising over the hill behind. Float and try to concentrate on the clouds and sky and sound of the sea lapping against my ears, but mind keeps wandering and wondering, the last swim. The end of one adventure is just the start of the next! A Mynar bird is chirping furiously under my bamboo table as I write this, then a long thin tamarisk leaf falls on the keyboard. Lunch of fish and chips at the hotel before taxi via two ferries to Krabi International Airport, where I am now sitting. On my final paddle and beach comb found some calcareous operculum, trap doors, from turban shells. they small round attractive “shells” with rounded cats eye or eye of shiva on one side and flat golden mean spiral pattern on the other. [Fibonacci spiral]

Said farewell to the warm welcoming sea, the home of Poseidon.

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Uneventful flight to Bangkok where we arrive just in time to meet Andre and Jacqueline Diss and their friend Jean Marc in the bar of our lovely Sukhothai hotel where the lovely and beautifully efficient Tippie had upgraded us to a larger room with a balcony.

Wednesday

A day at leisure, or rather retail, first for more bags with Jacqueline at Silom Village then to the massive market shop MBK, hundreds of small stalls selling electronic bits, predominately i-phone covers and connectors and selfie sticks for i-phones, the total rage. A swim in the hotel pool, packing the two new wheelies by Tom Smith M bought, she had actually arranged for an extra bags each on our return flight!

Very good meal at Camilla’s recommended “Never Ending Summer” restaurant, taxi to Sheraton Orhid then charming little ferry across the Chao Paya River to Klongsan Pier then to a converted warehouse with restaurant, architects office trendy cafe book shop and interior decorating shop. It is part of architect Duangrit Bunnag’s Jam Factory development. Quality stuff, simple design, well made with local wood, and slight reference to local style, more global fusion than ethnic revival. Start with cocktails, I have very interesting Bourbon infused in ginger with cinnamon. Then “Titbits wrapped in Betel leaves and Sweet Fish Sauce” , cones of green leaves kept tight with circles of red chilli into which you put onion, garlic, peanuts, chilli, dried shrimps and sauce, followed by Fried Vegetable Spring Rolls, spicy soup with mackerel, whole little fish in a clear soup with lemon grass and ginger, then stored fried glass noodles and mackerel fried rice. With a bottle of Italian red at Bht 1,400 the bill was Bht 3,586. A great meal to leave on.

Quick visit to the night market on Patpong where M found her Chanel i-phone cover for the i-phone 6, very happy indeed.What was once a notorious street full of girly bars and prostitutes, as visited by me nearly 40 years ago, is now a family night market with a few tame pole dancing bars and “smoking pussy” sleaze shows with pimps embarrassing western couples with a typed list of things the girls can do with ping pong balls etc. It even has its own web site; www.patponglive.com

Thursday

Early rise for last “Best Breakfast In Town” before taxi to airport where we are told the flight is overbooked so would we accept £125 each to fly Thai which leaves two hours later, a no brainer. Now just flown over Cox’s Bazaar and Kolkata in Bangladesh after lunch red wine and seat room. So much nicer then dear BA. Time to London 9;45 hours.

Things to buy!
GoPro camera price Bht 14,000 to 16,555 and 13500 at airport Tisot Altitude watch for Bht 32,000, £720 Kings Road Photofast Flash Drive for $155 on plane

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Lifetrons Pro Travel Photo Lense System $85, see also Olloclip 4in1 at £70. Now must spell check the Diary of 7,035 words. Must workout how to insert photos.

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