Going Home – The End

Sitting at Bangkok airport, waiting to board the plane.

It feels very strange to be going back to “normal” life after so long.  Very exciting to be going back to see friends and family and also to begin another phase in life – different work (hopefully), growing brood of grandchildren, all kids married etc., but also a shame to bring this amazing trip to an end.

It’s been wonderful!

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Thai Cookery School in Ao Nang

The ferry back from Koh Lanta to Krabi was more civilised than the bus – just 20 minutes by Tuk Tuk from the hotel and then a couple of hours on a not-overloaded ferry.

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We stopped in a couple of places off Koh Jum to allow people on and off via longtail boats as there is no harbour there…

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It was nice to get back to Sleep Whale Express and the charming owner.  Time to go out for a coffee and take a shower before being picked up at 12:30 for our Thai cookery school with Ya at the Krabi Cookery School in Ao Nang.  Ya is extremely experienced and showed Gordon Ramsey a thing or two when he was filming in Thailand.  See here.

12:30 came and went.  No pickup.  As 13:00 approached, we were beginning to worry and got the hotel to call her.  She had forgotten about us – can you believe it?  Us!

Still, we got there and it was a small group so they had waited for us.

Lot’s of fun – a nice group of people and we cooked a whole range of things – spring rolls, curry pastes, green curry, red curry, yellow curry, penang curry, stir-fired morning glory, Tom Yum soup, coconut soup, sticky sweet coconut rice.

We were a Norwegian and Englishman from Oxfordshire, a Latvian chef working in an Italian restaurant in Riga, an Indian couple running a private pre-school / nursery just south of Mumbai, and a young couple from Manchester.  A global team working in peace and harmony.

We did, of course get to eat it all as well…

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In the evening, we didn’t need any food, but went out for a walk in one of the night markets – very lively,

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imageTime to get ready to fly up to Bangkok in the morning, and then home…

Koh Lanta

We had booked for four nights at the Sri Lanta Resort on Koh Lanta – hoping that it would fit the end-of-trip chilling out bill more than our aborted attempt with the Poonsiri Resort in Ao Nang.  Fortunately, it did!

The minibus transfer from Krabi to Koh Lanta was fairly long and quite sardiney – it took about four hours with a couple of ferries to get us across to the right island, Koh Lanta Yai.  Sri Lanta is set at the southern end of Klongnin beach and was relaxed, friendly and just what we were looking for.

There was even daily yoga in a studio on the beach for Gro.

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We didn’t do very much really – it was too hot – but sitting on our terrace or by the pool was not too bad!

Lots of trees and shade and the whole place had a great, relaxed feel.

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The food was good and dinner sitting at tables on the beach in the evening was wonderful.

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It was not high end at all, but designed with real sympathy for the environment using local material and techniques and with beautiful lighting.

We even found a nice mojito bar just along the beach, with a £2/drink Happy Hour. Just perfect for watching the sun go down over the water as the temperature drops.

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The people in the bar took this and put it on their Facebook page…

This was one of ours though…

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Could have been a lot worse!!!

A really nice place to come for a week’s holiday without breaking the bank. Quite a few people with young kids as well.

G & T

Krabi

We left at 7:00 to go to the ferry.  Arrived just in time – we hadn’t been given a receipt when we booked it, so all a bit chaotic.  As it turned out, we had loads of time as the ferry didn’t end up leaving until 9:00.  They kept pouring more and more people on board, including one English guy who was so hammered he could hardly walk – he had a cigarette dangling from his lower lip and looked just like Norman Wisdom doing his drunk act.  Amazingly, he neither threw up on someone nor fell overboard.  Must have been a very good night!

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The ferry journey was uneventful – the sea was lumpy enough that it wasn’t really pretty – just A to B.

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We arrived at Ao Nang a couple of hours later, ready to go to the Poonsiri Resort where we planned to spend the last seven nights just chilling and taking stock…

First, we needed to offload the passengers for Phi Phi and Krabi.

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We have a bit of a photo gap here as, when we arrived at Poosiri, we realised that it really wasn’t for us – fairly remote and just sterile – they had totally failed to give it any charm whatsoever.  We needed to explain…

…having explained, we got the shuttle to Ao Nang town and had lunch and a couple of beers while we regrouped.  Ao Nang is nice enough but very much just a beach with tourist infrastructure – on this side of the water, there are many less Russian and a lot of Scandinavians but still…

We decided to go to Krabi, which is the main town of Krabi province (surprising, that!) and booked a night in the Sleep Whale Express hotel which turned out to be cheap and with very charming owners.

Once we were there, we decided to stay one more night, go to Koh Lanta and come back to Krabi for a night before going up to Bangkok airport.

I don’t think the word Krabi has anything to do with the Giant Crab sculpture but it’s very nice anyway.

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Tony had been having real ear problems since Bali (shouldn’t have dived again of course) and eventually succumbed to visiting a doctor.  There was an ENT specialist just up the road who said that he didn’t have an ear infection but a barotrauma resulting in fluid in the middle ear.  He said that he should go to the hospital to have an audiogram to find out if there was inner ear damage.

So we changed our plans for the next day and trotted off to the public hospital.  We were quite impressed – after about an hour involving five or six levels of triage and visiting various stages in the process, he saw the doctor.

The doctor informed him that he had an ear infection, didn’t give him an audiogram and gave him a bunch of drugs and antibiotics.  Seemed like a plan.  If it was a middle ear barotrauma, the only treatment is time anyway..image

We went to the Tiger Cave temple before taking our bus to Koh Lanta but it was even more scorchio than ever and we were seriously fading…image

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The dogs thought it was quite hot too.image

They do have some fun monumental scupltures in Krabi..imageWe liked Krabi – chilled but interesting, nice restaurants and cafes, night markets and a nice walk along the river looking at the boats and the mangrove swamps on the other side.  We’ll be happy to come back for a night before we leave.

Rawai Beach

We had a minibus transfer from the boat (Chalong Pier) about 20 minutes south to our hotel in Rawai Beach.  Rawai is a relatively quiet resort by Phuket standards and a little less touristy.  It has a lot of sea gypsies – more later.

Our hotel was part of a condominium complex right by the seafront.  A bit of a strange place but a great room – or rather rooms – it was a small flat really.

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Not much exciting happened in Rawai itself.  We relaxed for the first day and Tony had two long board calls.  He was still struggling with his ears but hoped they would recover of their own accord (he was wrong!)

The next day, we did a bit of tourism – to the Wat Chalong temple and to Phuket Old Town.  A really nice day.

The temple was interesting.  It had a really nice vibe with most people there being Thais – both tourists and locals.  The architecture was lovely, although a tad garish, and the fact that most of the Buddha statues inside were made of plastic sort of took the edge of it.

It was, however, charming and peaceful  (except for when they let off huge strings of firecrackers in a brick open fireplace / chimney thing).  Almost certainly getting rid of bad thoughts and spirits!!

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Then on to Phuket Old Town which was mostly centred around Thalong Street and had a lot of original Sino-Colonial architecture giving it a feel quite similar to Georgetown.  It was still stupidly scorchio – the temperature for our entire time in Thailand is ranging from 35-37 degrees.

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We had decided that we had to go to the Blue Elephant restaurant as we have memories of going to the one in Fulham back in the day.  There was a time in the ’80s when it just seemed to be the the thing to do.

Tony remembers being there with the EMI Greece finance director the night before a budget presentation – Tony asked Panagiottis when he was going to be 40.  The reply was “today”.  What a sad way to spend your 40th – away from home and with your boss – and he hadn’t even mentioned it.

The Blue Elephant was lovely – wonderful decor, beautiful building and stunning food.  All made even better by the bill, which was £20.  They must have got it wrong but we weren’t minded to complain.

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This couple were getting married and Gro can’t resist a bride these days…

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imageAll very pleasant and we skipped supper, watched a rubbish film and got an early night ready for our morning ferry to Ao Nang.

Diving in the Similan Islands

We had a fairly uneventful flight from Penang to Phuket (via KL in the wrong direction) and arrived at Karon beach in the evening.  We were upgraded to a fairly amazing room in a rather strange hotel with a funicular railway going from reception up the hill to the room.image

Not much to say about Karon Beach really – we were just here to catch our dive liveaboard.  We wandered around, checked out our dive equipment and had a bit of lunch before leaving for the boat at 15:00.

It was stupidly hot (35 degrees) and Gro wanted a hat.  She then wanted to take it back because she decided it was plastic…

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The Similan islands are a group of nine islands in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand (Similan means nine in Indonesian/Malay).  We also dived at Koh Tachai and Koh Bon further north.

We arrived at the pier to find our dive boat, Giamani…image

…and met the Dive Team – Ricardo, Martina and Martino as well as the hostess, Ji.image

Ricardo (the main man) explained that there was good news and bad news.  The bad news was that the Thai Princess was diving in the Similans so we would need to change the schedule a bit.  We didn’t care.

The good news was that we were the only customers on the boat, so we had a private cruise with three instructors.  We were very happy.

The first dive was the next day at 07:30…image

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The routine on a diving liveaboard is pretty simple.  Dive, eat and rest…repeat until the trip is over.  The boat, of course, moves between dive sites while you are resting.image

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It was Martino’s birthdayimage

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Ricardo and Martina (almost certainly an item) going on a technical dive to 50m.  The second tank was a Nitrox mix to make their decompression stops more effective.image

Tony did a few more dives than Gro (12 vs 7) – mostly because the morning dive tended to be deeper and more challenging.  Gro was a little uncomfortable on her first dive but then started to really enjoy it.

Tony was (and is) still having a lot of ear issues following his dives in Bali.  They didn’t prevent him diving but did exaggerate his motion sickness and he did manage to demonstrate the technique of throwing up through a regulator at 25m on a couple of occasions.

The diving itself was wonderful.  We saw a huge amount of marine life, some amazing soft corals, great underwater architecture (huge boulders) and a couple of wrecks.

Among the highlights – massive (and tiny) morays, shedloads of scorpion fish, stonefish, a huge range of nudibranchs, Napoleon fish, big (and too friendly) barracuda, a big guitarshark (actually a type of ray), a couple of black-tipped reef sharks, some great and very friendly turtles, large octopi, box fish, porcupine fish, dog tooth tuna, a conch, hermit crabs, very pretty prawny crab things, aggressive trigger fish, sticky remora, big schools of trevally and tuna, lovely blue anenomes with little clown fish, a nudibranch nest, bat fish, butterfly fish, amazing schools of glassfish…

Some photos Martino took of the small stuff…

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Tony likes nudibranchs and small stuff generally…

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All good things have to come to an end…image

Georgetown, Penang

We had a pleasant three hour drive from the Cameron Highlands to Penang and left our car at the airport.  A relief to get rid of our last hire car with no incidents.

Took a taxi into Georgetown to our guesthouse, the Betel Lodge, which was a charming old terraced house.  

We were welcomed by the owner with a glass of nutmeg iced tea and lots of useful information about what to do and where to go.

This was even followed by a slice of watermelon and a Chinese bun when we got to our room.

It was very hot but we went walkabout anyway.  Gro was really feeling the heat.

Georgetown is a World Heritage Site and is really charming – you can really feel the history and it isn’t to difficult to imagine how it might have been back in the day.

Very large Chinese population and influence everywhere…

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There is street art all over Georgetown. This was following a big competition/project in 2009

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The best cake shop in the world (or so they say).  The barbecued chicken buns were delicious…

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I think they do proper Dragon Boat racing here…

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Old meets new (and works for once)

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The mosque in the middle of town was really beautiful

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This was our guesthouse from the outside

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That evening we went to the Tree Shade seafood restaurant down by the ferry as recommended by the guesthouse owner.  

It was lucky that he had told us what to order as it was more streetfood style but with a much bigger set of options and no menus – just a kitchen full of fish and people waiting for you to tell them what you wanted.  We managed, but forgot to tell them not to make it too hot.

We had the salt egg prawns and a special king of vegetable, a bit like rocket – both came pretty spicy and were delicious but it was all a bit much for Gro when combined with the outside temperature!

The next day was another opportunity to stroll around town

This was the hotel where we should have stayed…The Seven Terraces

(not true – we were very happy where we were)

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This is where Jimmy Choo first started out as an apprentice.  One for Charlotte.

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We were very hot and found a great little place for a classic Malay lunch – the Mews Cafe

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After lunch, we went to the Blue Mansion, the former home of the richest man in Asia in the early 19th century.  It was stunning:

“The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (Malay: Rumah Agam Cheong Fatt Tze) is located at 14 Leith Street, 10200 George Town, Penang,Malaysia. The mansion’s indigo-blue outer wall makes it a very distinct building in the area.

The Circa 1880s mansion built by the merchant Cheong Fatt Tze at the end of 19th century has 38 rooms, 5 granite-paved courtyards, 7 staircases & 220 vernacular timber louvre windows.[1] The architecture of the mansion however originates from the Su Chow Dynasty Period in China. Other features of the house include Gothic louvred windows, Chinese cut and paste porcelain work, Stoke-on-Trent floor tiles made of encaustic clay in geometric pieces all shaped to fit to a perfect square, Glasgow cast iron works by MacFarlane’s & Co. and Art Nouveau48 stained glass windows. The mansion was originally built with careful attention to the principles of Feng Shui.The domestic annexe is built in front of it to prevent any road being built to create a T-Junction in front of it; it has water running through a meandering network of pipes that begin from the eaves of the roof, channelled through the upper ceiling, down the walls collecting in the central courtyard before being channelled away from the property via a similar network of pipes, in this case, underneath the entire flooring system and is built with a step in the middle to create a slope (to ride on the dragons back).

The distinctive blue colour of the mansion is the result of mixing lime with natural blue dye made from the Indigo plant. The blue was very popular in the Colonial period and the dye was imported from India to Penang by the British. The lime-wash was very effective in a tropical weather as it absorbed moisture and cooled the house whilst dispelling moisture without damage to the structural integrity of the walls. Though white was the most easily available colour, the indigo-blue was chosen as the former is a colour synonymous with death for the Chinese.

The mansion was purchased from Cheong Fatt Tze’s descendants in 1989 by a group of local Penang individuals to save the edifice from encroaching development and possible demolition. While it remains until now, a private-residence, the property operates as a 16 Room Bed & Breakfast-cum-museum as part of the adaptive reuse of an ongoing restoration project which has won awards from UNESCO. Tours are offered in English three times a day to central parts of the house.

The mansion has been featured in various films including the 1993 Oscar-winning French film “Indochine” starring Catherine Deneuve, ‘The Red Kebaya’, “Road to Dawn‘, ‘3rd Generation’ and the critically acclaimed ‘The Blue Mansion’ in 2009 by Singapore Director Glen Goei of ‘Forever Fever’ fame. The mansion has also been featured in programs broadcast on various international television channels (CNN, BCC, The History Channel, Discovery Travel & Living).”

The reason why the rainfall is all channelled in via the central courtyard is because rain=money and the Chinese always want more…

Bed and Breakfast is a bit of an understatement (Wikipedia might be out of date here). It looks as though the hotel rooms are very high end indeed – although we could only see photos – and there is now a high end restaurant as well.

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…and then back to our guesthouse.  Somewhat more humble, but very charming and following a lot of the same Feng Shui principles as the Blue Mansion

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Georgetown was lovely.

G & T

A trip around the world