Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Hua Hin before the ASEAN conference

My family and I recently took a few days holiday in Hua Hin. A very nice and normally relaxed resort just a couple of hours drive from Bangkok. We had been before a few years ago and decided the time was right to go again.

We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard just out of town and thought we’d be in for a nice, peaceful few days. What we didn’t count on was the ASEAN conference! It started the day after we left, but while we were there all the security was being ramped up, there were armed soldiers guarding every side street, police and security guys in black suits everywhere.

Our hotel was swarming with them, we had to go through an x-ray scanner every time we re-entered the hotel. Helicopters were circling overhead and they’d even coned off a lane in each direction of the main road through town, reserved as the “ASEAN lane”.

I am sure security is normally very tight at these events anyway, but it had been heightened even more after the recently abandoned conference in Pattaya. The government was embarrassed by red-shirted protestors (supporters of deposed PM Thaksin Shinawatra) and determined that this would not happen again.

All of this meant our stay in normally relaxed Hua Hin felt more like we were in London or New York, where you’re constantly on edge. We decided to get out of town for some day trips, but even that proved difficult due to the congestion caused by extra traffic, lane closure and blocked U-turns.

It just wasn’t meant to be so in the end we decided to spend more time than we’d have liked by the hotel pool and in the spa!

Don’t let this put you off Hua Hin, it’s a lovely place normally, we just chose the worst possible time to go! Just goes to show, do your research beforehand!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

No “snow day” for me!

It seems that the slightest bit of snow causes the UK to grind to a halt. Everywhere, except where I live that is!

I was looking forward to a couple of snow days this week, having heard about the inches of snowfall down in the south of England. And what did we get in the East Midlands? A pathetic little dusting, like somebody had spilt icing sugar everywhere!

Oh well, only a couple more days to go and then 10 days of rest, relaxation and eating!

Happy Christmas to you all.

Monday, 21 December 2009

A couple of less well known shopping spots in Bangkok

A couple of shopping spots not to be missed!

Everyone knows about the major shopping spots in Bangkok such as Siam Square, MBK, Central World Plaza, Chatuchak etc. These can become a little too familiar after a few visits, so I thought I’d throw another name into that particular hat!

The Platinum Fashion Mall is another behemoth on the Bangkok shopping landscape. It is located on Thanon Petchaburi, not far from Pantip Plaza and around the corner from Central World Plaza. If you are in Bangkok but not able to make the Weekend Market at Chatuchak, or fancy a bit of air conditioned comfort, then this is your place! It offers a lot of the same goods as Chatuchak at similar prices. Bargains can be had if buying in bulk. You see a lot of locals wandering around with those huge, colourful and stripy plastic bags on wheels so it must be good!

There’s also a big food court on the top level. My daughter particularly loved the shop selling nothing but Mr Men clothes on the ground floor.

Another tip if you like wandering around local food markets is “Talat Rung Charoen”. This is a bit out of the way from the normal tourist hang outs, but you are rewarded with an authentic local’s market, crammed full of fresh produce and lots of small shops opposite, selling religious paraphernalia, electric goods, small restaurants and more. To get there you need to take a taxi to Sathu Pradit Soi 33, accessed off either Thanon Sathu Pradit or Thanon Nonsi. As a general landmark for taxi drivers, it is located across the other side of the expressway from Central Rama III (in Thai, “Centan Ram Saam”) and just down the road from Tesco Lotus Rama III (in Thai, “Lotat Ram Saam”).

If you get there, let me know!

Skytrain stories

Most visitors to Bangkok will have been on the Skytrain at least once, even just out of curiosity. Over its relatively short life it has already become an integral part of the Bangkok landscape, physically and socially. It connects parts of town that otherwise would have involved a gruelling journey by bus/taxi/ferry. As well as providing a valuable transport link it has also provided Thai comedians and TV script writers with a valuable source of comedy, portraying everyday scenes and overheard conversations from the elevated concrete giant.

Skytrain station

My first such experience was during one of my first trips to Thailand, 5 or 6 years ago now. I was standing by one of the doors with the train screeching round the corner towards Sala Daeng station, sat down opposite was a scantily clad German lady holding her baby. The baby, as is the way in Thailand, was attracting lots of attention and coo-cooing but then started crying. Lo and behold down went the lady’s dress and out came a breast and she started feeding the baby. Something which probably wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows in Germany but drew a fantastic reaction here! Lots of open mouths (guppy fish at feeding time!) followed by whispering and embarrassed laughter, but of course everyone too polite to say anything out loud. After going through Sala Daeng and Ratchadamri stations (more people getting on the train, more disbelieving looks) events took a surprising turn and one brave Thai lady walked up to the mother and commended her on this act, and her commitment to her child. Mothers all have the same instinct, whichever country they come from.

Skytrain as seen from Lumpini Park

Tourists to Thailand are probably familiar with the idea that too much contact and public affection between a couple is generally frowned upon. However there does seem to be one exception to that rule, as witnessed on that same skytrain route as above! The relatively common pairing of attractive, slim, long haired Thai girl with a more butch, short haired (also Thai) female partner seems to be able to do what other couples cannot. Getting very touchy feely and kissing would normally get you some rather frosty looks, but not for this couple, nobody batted an eyelid. Thailand and especially Bangkok constantly contradicts itself, but this is a Western state of mind that doesn’t seem to exist here. This allows temples to exist next to huge shopping centres, a government run lottery to exist in a country where gambling is illegal and poverty to exist next door to great wealth.

A more uncomfortable moment than even these two events involved a couple of young American girls. Probably just out of college and fresh off the plane, they were stood in a carriage having a rather loud conversation involving many swear words. It was apparent that they thought these Thai people couldn’t understand what they were saying, how wrong they were! Thai people see enough TV and films to know our swear words! I had a kind word in their ear, whether it made any difference or not I’ll never know.

Whenever Thai people hear a foreigner speaking Thai it always draws a smile and more than a hint of surprise! A fairly elderly American gent was minding his own business riding between Chit Lom and Ploen Chit when his phone rang. Imagine everyone’s shock when he started speaking in fluent Thai, I could see a few embarrassed faces of people thinking “I’d better apologise for what I just said about him, thinking he couldn’t possibly understand”!

And how we all miss the camp train drivers making the station announcements! Those days are gone as it’s now a sanitised recording, the days of drivers mistakenly announcing the wrong station are long gone!

There are many more encounters, too numerous to list here; suffice to say that a journey on the Skytrain isn’t always as mundane as just getting from A to B!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Travelling on a bus

I travel on a bus to and from work every day. What is it about being on a bus that turns even the most normal, kind, sensible people into selfish, idiotic robots??!!

Those people that still pay in cash (even in this day of half price travel cards), is it too much to ask that you count out your pennies before you get on the bus instead of spending ages fiddling around holding everyone else up??

People that insist on sitting on the outside of a double seat, thus blocking off the inside seat at the same time…..why??? Why do you do that, what are you gaining apart from making yourself look stupid and selfish?

To the shoppers who put their bags on the empty seat next to them, your bags haven’t paid for a seat, so put them on the floor.

Pushchair toting mothers (I have no problems with pushchairs on buses, I think it’s great that there is space for them these days) it isn’t the drivers fault if the pushchair spaces are already taken. The driver has every right to stop you boarding unless you fold up the pushchair.

To the people who insist on playing their music at top volume or indeed on loudspeaker, turn it down! We didn’t get on the bus to have to listen to the wailings of Beyonce or N Dubz, if we wanted that we’d go to a nightclub.

I think that about covers it! Anyone else care to add to the list?!