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The Mystic East - a tale of hot food, hot weather, airmiles and imodium.

The Mystic East - a tale of hot food, hot weather, airmiles and imodium.

Dec 24th, 2016, 02:53 PM
  #41  
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Day 12 and 13: Halong Bay

For the next portion of our holiday we’d booked a 2 day/1 night cruise around Halong Bay with Greyline, a company recommended by our hotel. Originally, we’d reserved a cabin with another tour operator via Booking.com, but the plethora of reviews on TripAdvisor for many of the tour sellers revealed a lot of gripes with these cruises (people being put on the wrong boat, crap food, hard sell of souvenirs on excursions etc etc) so we decided it prudent to go with a company that our hotel had used previously and could vouch for. We had breakfast at the hotel as there wasn’t really time to go out and get fed before the coach arrived to pick us up – it was a great breakfast with a choice of western and Asian cuisine and a similar selection of puds and cakes to the Paradise Saigon hotel, which delighted me! Aside from the buffet you could order bespoke eggs, pancakes and French toast, and the bar was open for freshly squeezed fruit juice and smoothies.

We had a slight hiccup before the off in that the hotel had originally told us it would be ok for us to leave our stuff in our room (we had another 2 nights booked there after the cruise) but as we were waiting in reception for the coach we were instead advised that we should pack everything up after all. Tommy raced back upstairs and threw anything and everything that was lying around into his case (mine was locked and he didn’t know the combo), then bought all the luggage down for it to be stored by the hotel until we returned. He was a bit hot and bothered since it meant we were late for the coach which had to wait outside for us to sort the luggage issue, and all this after we’d smugly remarked coming down in the lift earlier how well organised we were and how we wouldn’t be the annoying people running late and keeping everyone waiting.

We got on the bus (apologising to those already on board), which then completed a brief tour of old quarter hotels picking up other customers for the same cruise. Our guide imparted interesting snippets of information along the way – everyone gasped at the revelation that the rickety narrow houses of the old quarter average 3 million US$ in value. We also learned that the green crops we saw being ferried about by motorbike (often piled up so high that the rider was completely obscured apart from hands and feet) were the tops of sweet potatoes, destined as pig feed. Piggies love sweet potato tops! The drive was long (about 4 hours once we’d finished the hotel pick-ups) and the road conditions decreased in quality the closer we got to the coast. Roadworks were ubiquitous. Drivers of all vehicle seemed quite dare-devil, with lots of dodgy overtaking. We passed many construction sites – lots of half finished houses and a number of public buildings with huge communist-style posters alongside showing ‘comrades’ punching the air victoriously in celebration at the new infrastructure. We had one brief stop at a craft centre where a lot of the goods are produced by the disabled, and the quality of the items here was very high indeed – lots of lovely silks, lacquerware, stoneware and fine jewellery.

I think we got to Halong Bay around 12.30pm and boarded our boat a short time later. There was a welcome drink, a brief run through the itinerary, and then cabin keys were handed out. We had gone for one of the premium cabins with a private terrace, loungers, table and chairs, and it was lovely. Quickly dumping our bags, we returned to the restaurant area for lunch, which was served as we sailed out into Halong Bay. It was a 5 or 6 course menu, which was quite a pleasant surprise as I’d been expecting buffet style meals. Instead we had fish soup, (slightly gelatinous but good flavour, lots of crab, shrimp etc), then a papaya salad with shredded pork on top, then I think there was some stir fried chicken, several more courses that escape my memory, then fruit, and finally Vietnamese coffee served in those little drip/filter thingies that fit on the top of the cup.

After lunch we got changed into swimwear and lazed about on our terrace enjoying the views of the thousands of limestone kasts that we passed slowly by. These were incredibly varied in size and shape, jagged or domed, rocky and barren, or thickly covered in greenery, often with tiny palm-fringed beaches nestling at their bases. Black and yellow butterflies the size of sparrows flitted above the emerald green water, and tiny silver fish leapt in arcs alongside the boat. We heard, but could not see, goats bleating as we passed one of the larger, rockier kasts. All afternoon, fishing vessels, old-fashioned junks (some under sail), and tiny tenders from the larger boats passed back and forth in the distance.

Every now and then our boat would anchor for people to go ashore on excursions. These included a trip to Titov island (named after the soviet cosmonaut) where you could swim from a pale yellow apron of sand, or climb hundreds of steps up to the peak to admire views of the bay, kayaking around the fishing villages, and a cave exploration. We actually passed on these as the privacy of our own terrace and the views from it were so good we wanted to make the most of them before the sun went down. The tender putt-putted away, leaving us alone on board apart from the crew, to enjoy the peace, blue skies and warm sun. Shall I tell you another advantage of staying on board? You get to be first up on deck for Happy Hour, with the best table and the best view of the sunset!

Before dinner there was a group cookery lesson. I’d read about these on some of the tour websites during our research phase and thought it sounded a bit cheesy, but it was actually great fun making Vietnamese spring rolls from an array of ingredients beautifully set out for us, wafer thin pancakes, huge prawns, salad and herbs, crispy fried onions and strips of warm omelette. Being a scientist I knew to watch the demo like a hawk and listen to the instructions properly, so my spring rolls were excellent if I do say so myself. Tommy agreed mine were the best, so that's virtually an impartial adjudication.

We then had another meal of 5 or 6 courses. I can’t remember them all but I know there were oysters grilled over the bbq, some chicken cooked the same way, big prawns, and then a lovely mango mousse which I could have eaten buckets of. I don’t think we went to bed that late - I do know that we deliberately left the blinds open so we could see the sunrise next morning. Moored in a quiet bay with just a few other ships, their lights twinkling golden against a dark navy sky, it didn’t take long for us to drop off.

Next day was more of the same – gentle cruising around the bay before slowly heading back to port, a buffet lunch being served en-route. We had to go up on deck for the last hour or so as the crew clean out the cabins ready for the next group of visitors whilst you are still on board, which wasn’t ideal as the midday sun was pretty hot, but we managed to get seats under one of the awnings where we read until the boat docked. The journey back involved more hair-raising driving and we were right at the rear of the coach this time on seats that seemed especially bouncy, so it was not unlike a rollercoaster ride at times, but we were both pretty chilled after our two days at sea and didn’t even get cross at the people in front of us reclining their seats almost as low as dentists chairs.

We got checked back into the Essence D’Orient – new room, higher floor – then headed out for dinner. Actually, there was a brief but essential shopping trip just before dinner. On board the boat I had found it amusing to clamp bits of Tommy with my hair grip whilst he was dozing on the sun lounger and as some sort of divine punishment for this, on the third or fourth clamp, the grip broke. I was upset by this as it meant I had to go round with untidy beachy hair for the rest of the cruise, but Tommy promised we could look for a new grip once we were back in Hanoi. The only place within a reasonable walking distance that sold anything remotely suitable was a very posh designer mall at the top of the lake full of Louis Vuitton and Cartier. The mall was depresssingly empty, making me think it’s not really what the locals need. It cost about a tenner for the new grip, 95% of which was probably to cover the ground rent, and it stung a bit as the exact same thing would have been about £2 in Boots. Well, it stung Tommy cos he paid for it But, as I kept telling him, he wouldn’t want to go round with me looking a total state and it did double duty as a souvenir of the trip. So win-win really.

Tommy was on a pho quest, and after hairgripgate I wasn’t about to argue with him, so we duly found a teeny place back in the old quarter, just along the street from our hotel that fitted the bill. Think formica tables, old black wire fans, a single hotplate and age-old bottles of chili sauce with peeling labels. A woman was wrestling a huge joint of boiled beef which she artfully cut into thin ribbons, depositing them in bowls of steaming broth, replete with herbs and onions. We sat at a bench eating our pho, cold sodas helping wash it down. Then we wandered the night market for a bit and Tommy bought fridge magnets for him and ice cream for us both. I had mint and it was lovely and refreshing after the hot broth. We almost certainly had more beers and cocktails after this – I truly can’t remember but it is inconceivable that we would have headed back to the hotel without something boozy first!

Halong Bay photos attached below and I have thoughtfully spared you any of Tommy's hairy chest.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/494523...57676721306180
RM67 is offline  
Dec 24th, 2016, 04:47 PM
  #42  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
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You were very lucky to have such glorious weather in Halong Bay. My photos don't look anything like yours since we had overcast and slightly foggy weather. Enjoying your report immensely.
Treesa is offline  
Dec 24th, 2016, 06:47 PM
  #43  
 
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It sounds like and amazing experience, and what beautiful pictures! Thank you for your consideration re: Tommy's hairy chest.
Toucan2 is offline  
Dec 25th, 2016, 10:17 AM
  #44  
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Treesa - we were so grateful for the good weather. We noticed that the vast majority of the photos on TripAdvisor associated with cruise line reviews feature cloudy skies, so it was a huge bonus to have some sun. Which cruise line did you use and what we're they like?

Toucan - thanks - it was a fab trip
RM67 is offline  
Dec 26th, 2016, 09:46 AM
  #45  
 
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RM, we cruised on Holland America from Singapore to Hong Kong. South East Asia was an eye opener for me. Would return but not on a cruise ship. Not enough time to absorb the ambiance.
Treesa is offline  
Dec 27th, 2016, 06:39 PM
  #46  
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Day 14: Hanoi

For our last full day in Hanoi we had quite a long wish list. Tommy wanted to visit another war remnants museum, I wanted to see the water puppet show we’d mentally pencilled in earlier in the trip, there was a larger lake we thought might be worth exploring, I was looking to buy vietnamese coffee beans to take home as gifts, and we both fancied more bahn mi. It’s probably worth mentioning now that we had found Hanoi to be the coolest/least humid of the cities we’d visited on our trip thus far, probably due to it being far and away the furthest north – we’d both remarked that we found the climate more like central Europe than south east asia - however, on this particular morning, the temperature seemed to have rocketed, and by the time we’d finished our 40 minute walk to the war remnants museum in the sweltering heat we were both feeling a bit rough.

The museum was set in a colonial style building in a palm fringed courtyard. Outside were helicopters and early jet fighters, including a well known exhibit which looked like a plane that had landed vertically on its nose, but was in fact the remnants of multiple crashed aircraft piled up together. To the side of the aeronautical exhibits were mock ups of prisoner cells, and even remnants of the 19th century French occupation, including an old wooden guillotine. Inside, there was less focus on the US/Vietnamese conflict than there had been in the Saigon museum, with more emphasis on exhibits from dynastic Vietnam through to French Indochina, although there were still a few 20th century artifacts – a giggly group of middle-aged Asian women took turns to take selfies with long sticks, posing themselves against an ancient Citroen and a small early tank.

We had iced coffees in a nice air-conditioned café on site before collecting Tommy’s rucksack from a locker by the ticket booth and then headed for Ho Tay, a lake so large that it made our turtle lake look like a puddle. Ho Tay is home to a large lotus farm and an impressive pagoda of well over 10 storeys, as well as pleasure boats, funfair rides, and wooded shorelines. It took us about 20 minutes to walk from the museum to Ho Tay, but we were so exhausted by the heat we didn’t really have the energy to explore much once we got there. We sat in a riverside café that had a gangplank (so may in fact have been a houseboat of sorts), drinking non-alcoholic mojitos. Alongside the café were hundreds of swan pedalos, in a roped off area that made it abundantly clear that they were not currently for hire. I love anything a bit kitschy, so this was a shame, however the chances of me being able to persuade Tommy into one were pretty much zero I would say, so it probably helped avoid some sort of domestic incident that there was no question of being able to rent one.

We wandered back from the lake to our hotel very slowly indeed. The road leading away from the lake toward the old quarter had lots of lovely looking bars and eateries but the heat had vanquished our appetites, so neither of us was keen to stop en-route. We passed through some areas of the city that we’d not seen before, with roadside hairdressers shaving men in dilapidated barbers chairs, mirrors fixed on brick walls opposite or hanging from adjacent trees. We also passed through an area with vendors of beautiful gemstones. I saw a lovely sapphire in that perfect limpid ceylon blue shade, and a fabulous firey orange one too, and the prices were really decent, but Tommy wouldn’t let me linger long, and I didn’t feel well enough to argue so we headed for the Essence D’Orient without purchasing, eating or drinking further.

Tommy confessed to feeling a bit ropey too once we got back to our hotel room, so we agreed to have an hour or so in bed to recover from the heat, then venture out again to have a late lunch somewhere, and complete our tourist hitlist when we were better. Here is where I made a grave mistake however. I decided I would take a precautionary Imodium – the first one I’d had on an empty stomach. As it turns out, though having relatively few side effects, imodium can be quite unpleasant if you haven’t eaten for a while, with the ability to cause bloating and a fair bit of stomach pain. Curled up with Tommy, I felt worse and worse as the afternoon went on. ‘Maybe do some small moans if it helps’ suggested Mr M. So I did. And it didn’t.

By late afternoon Tommy was feeling better, but I still felt rubbish. I suggested he go out and get some dinner, and he said he would, and possibly a foot massage too, and if I wanted anything to eat to message him and he would bring something back. I told him to enjoy himself (second mistake of the day!!) and off he went. I did start to feel marginally better an hour or so later and ate a banana from the complimentary fruit bowl and some Oreos from the minibar, but immediately began to feel crap again so went back to bed and felt extra sorry for myself. About 8pm Tommy messaged me to say he had found a great bar and was playing pool and sent me a couple of pictures of the venue. Around 8:30pm he messaged again to say (gleefully) that he had beaten three locals. He asked if I wanted anything bringing back to eat (which I took to mean he was coming home imminently) but I declined, explaining about the room snacks and how they'd not really helped. I signed off and looked forward to him coming in and probably making a fuss of me, and me in turn persuading him to rub my back because I was so poorly, and generally extracting a fair bit of sympathy etc etc.

An hour passed and no Tommy. Another hour passed and still no Tommy. Somewhere between half ten and eleven I messaged him but received no reply. I noticed that he’d not checked his phone for a couple of hours now. Midnight came and went - still no Tommy. I was starting to have a flutter of concern - we had to be up not long after 5am to get a taxi to the airport, then a flight back to Bangkok, a 5 hour private car transfer down the coast, a ferry across from the mainland to the island of Ko Chang, and then, last but not least, a 45 minute drive round the island to our next hotel on Lonely Beach.

Half twelve came and I started to imagine all sorts of terrible things that might have befallen Mr M – a beating from the locals who didn’t like being drubbed at pool, a collision with a speeding moped as he crossed the road, getting lost somewhere in a vast unfamiliar city of nearly 8 million people after misreading Google maps and falling into one of the lakes... I looked up the British Consulate just to be on the safe side.

It finally occurred to me that Mr M might not have been able to get back into the hotel, as I had the room key and I wasn’t sure whether the door or desk were manned at this late hour. So I got partially dressed (because I was ill and didn’t have the energy for socks, bras, shoes etc) and took the lift down to the foyer. There, to my relief, a tipsy jock was trying to order a taxi to the airport for the morning in a thick (and now also slightly slurred) Glasweigan accent that was clearly causing the staff much confusion. After translating for the hard of drink, I took Tommy back upstairs, where he spent about 20 minutes trying to set the alarm on his dead phone(!) before I exasperatedly got up and plugged it in for him. He was asleep about 45 seconds later, helpfully keeping me awake with his snoring until about 2am.
RM67 is offline  
Dec 28th, 2016, 12:00 PM
  #47  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 2,110
Really enjoying your trip report and pics. I too used to love watching the sky lanterns, but now it just makes me very sad. http://balloonsblow.org/flaming-litter/
cruisin_tigger is offline  
Dec 29th, 2016, 04:15 PM
  #48  
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Thank you Cruisin-tigger. I also heard that pilots don't like the lanterns!
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Dec 29th, 2016, 04:37 PM
  #49  
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Day 15: Hanoi to Ko Chang

My alarm went off about half past five and I crawled out of bed, telling Tommy I was going to nip in the shower first, and suggesting maybe he could start the packing, as neither of us had been in a fit state to do it the night before. My stomach did feel a bit better after a few hours sleep, though still not completely back to normal. My mouth was dry as a bone however, and every time I put my toothbrush in it. I instantly gagged. I showered and washed my hair, and put a little bit of make-up on, which took about 20 minutes. Coming out of the bathroom, I spotted that Tommy was still in bed, so implored him to get up with more urgency than before. ‘I am up’ he lied from beneath the duvet. I think at this point I yanked the covers off and Mr M finally surfaced and headed for the bathroom. He was showered, shaved and packed whilst I was still sorting out my case, although he was too hungover to exude much smugness about being ready first.

We headed down to the foyer and Tommy took care of the bill whilst I kept a look out for the taxi. The receptionist was really concerned that we were leaving without breakfast and kept saying ‘But you got international flight!’. We explained that we needed to get straight to the airport and didn’t have time to eat anything. She then had a quick word with the two bellboys who had been about to take our cases out to the car, and they stopped wheeling them out to the street and guarded them inside instead, whilst she disappeared. A minute or two later the receptionist then reappeared with two carrier bags full of pastries, fresh fruit all neatly cut into portions in little plastic trays, yoghurt and water. We had already paid the bill so weren’t charged for this breakfast on the go as far as I can make out. I have to say, I was pathetically overwhelmed with gratitude for this small act of generosity, as I was desperately thirsty. I can’t remember your name but thank you, lovely lady of the hotel Essence D’Orient if by any slim chance you are reading this!

I had been, frankly, dreading the taxi ride with my poorly tummy, which I’d been told was at least 45 minutes long, however by some complete and utter miracle we had the best driver by miles of the trip so far, and he drove sensibly and smoothly (and there were even seatbelts). Again, with hindsight I think this was probably down to the hotel, who really did seem to care about every little detail. It stands to reason that they would not order us some maniac in a jalopy.

We got to the airport just over an hour and a half before our flight, which I thought was cutting it a bit fine, but happily once we got inside the terminal it was pretty empty. Hanoi airport is clean and modern and not that busy - of our various destinations and connections, probably only Chiang Mai was quieter. There was a good selection of coffee bars and souvenir shops, and first impressions of the airport were very positive indeed. These impressions rapidly evaporated at the bag drop however. We’d checked in online already and thus only needed to hand our suitcases over. There was a French couple in front of us and small group of maybe 4 or 5 asian students all travelling together, in front of them. That was all. 40 minutes later we were still queuing to drop off our bags and the French couple had changed lines in exasperation. The young lady managing the bag drop was working at a snail’s pace – I am guessing she was new – and seemed to be quadruple checking everything. To make matters worse 2 or 3 Air Asia staff were at adjacent desks with no queues (they’d finished checking in an earlier flight) and they just stood chattering and laughing as Ms Slowcoach checked the same passports and tickets for the same students yet again. I kept looking at the unoccupied staff with daggers, but no-one would make eye contact. To make matters worse a man shamelessly inserted himself between us and the Asian students instead of joining the back of the queue. Tommy said something cross and sweary and the French couple nodded in agreement. Eventually we completed bag drop, though not without being handed the wrong passports back first.

In the security hall there were probably about 10 lanes with luggage conveyers and scanners, but only 2 were actually open. The queues were huge. Slightly built, sallow skinned young men and women in olive military uniforms checked documentation lethargically or stared into space as hand luggage went through the scanner. Just before it was our turn to be scanned everything stopped for a change of shift. This was accompanied by a lot of unnecessary (imho) pomp and ceremony, with more olive-uniformed men and women marching in, stopping and saluting to music, before the old shift could stand down. I think everyone in that hall was mentally screaming ‘Hurry the f*** up!!’ We finally got scanned and I heard someone being called back – either me or the woman behind me – I’m not sure which tbh. I took a chance and carried on walking and nothing happened so it can’t have been me, can it.

By some miracle our plane was still at the gate and we even had time to eat our fruit (I just sucked my pineapple for its moisture content, being dehydrated and weak and pathetic). There was a moment of horror when the useless bag drop women appeared at the boarding gate and we thought she was going to be running that too, but she had just come to chat to friends and see the off, thank Christ. On board, Tommy and I were seated across the aisle from one other, but he reached across and held my hand for take-off and landing, which I thought was very sweet, and actually quite brave because we were right at the front of the plane and everyone could see and I think someone even sniggered. I awarded him 100 brownie points for that.

At Don Mueng airport they had a great system for people being met by prebooked cars – a lady with your name on a board met you off the plane, then took you to a special seating area and called the driver up. We had a people carrier for just the two of us and it had leather seats and wifi and bottles of cold water. (There is also a bus service down to the Ko Chang ferry but you have to cross Bangkok to connect with it, and had our plane been delayed we might have missed it, so we preferred the private transfer option). As our taxi left the airport we could see that the traffic was really not too bad at all and we were finally able to relax knowing we were well on course to make the ferry in time for the last crossing of the evening. I ate my almond croissant and pain au rasin as we passed wetlands and gem-mining towns and biotech parks as we sped south. The driver made one stop to refuel, and while I nipped to the loo, Tommy bought me ice cream and a bag of pineapple which came with a little sachet of brown sugar and chili to shake over it.

We passed through a very brief but very intense rainstorm, and then about four hours after leaving Bangkok we were at the dockside in Trat province, awaiting our ferry. Because we’d made such good time we could clearly see the island of Ko Chang across the strait in daylight, which was a bit of an unexpected bonus. The sun just started to set as we crossed on the ferry, which followed a route marked out by red bhoys, small islets off to the right, the odd fishing boat bobbing past. Our driver crossed with us and took us all the way to our destination – Lonely Beach - on the west coast of the island. Ko Chang is basically mountain covered in thick jungle with a thin fringe of flat habitable land all around the edge. As we drove around the top of the island and down the west coast, we saw pale crescents of sand at the intermittant beach resorts we passed through, bars and restaurants hugging the shore, their lights just starting to come on, strains of music sometimes audible. Every time we left a beach resort the road headed up into the mountains and jungle, with hairpin bends and spectacular views down to the sea below.

After about 40 minutes we arrived at our hotel – Nest Sense Resort. This was an eco resort of 18 rooms built on a rocky shoreline with the jungle abutting the grounds. Our villa was surrounded by huge palms and had stunning views out to sea through floor to ceiling windows. The design of the rooms was minimalist but still luxurious, with polished concrete floors, simple white bedding, rattan lamps, and a monsoon shower. The hum from the insects outside as the sun went down was so loud I genuinely thought some sort of alarm was going off the first time I heard it! We saw lizards climbing the villa walls as we headed for the restaurant, which overlooked a small but pristine turquoise infinity pool. Sat outside on wooden seats with giant cobalt cushions we ate spring rolls and satay chicken by candlelight in the humid tropical air.
RM67 is offline  
Jan 1st, 2017, 03:38 AM
  #50  
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Days 16-19 : Ko Chang

Since Ko Chang was mostly down time for us, I’ve decided not to do a day by day account, but just combine the four full days into one entry to try to give you a general sense of the place.

As I’ve already briefly explained, the island is mountainous and covered in dense jungle. Monkeys, elephants, snakes, lizards and tropical birds are all to be found in the forest. Human habitation is concentrated very much around the edges of the island. The east side (facing the mainland) is much less touristy – there are some hotels and resorts, but they tend to be small and sparse. Most of the fishing villages are also found here, though there are also some on the south coast. On the west coast, facing out to sea and across to a number of satellite islands, are the majority of the beach resorts. The further you get from the main ferry port (which is in the north east quadrant of the island) the more low-key the resorts become. As well as the mountains, jungle and sandy beaches, there are also areas of mangrove swamp and lagoons. Our resort of Lonely Beach had a hippy/backpacker vibe, with thatched huts to rent just behind the shoreline, and numerous ramshackle cafes and restaurants on the road through town. The beach was small but pristine, bisected by a small creek running down from the mountains above.

Our typical day would start with breakfast at the hotel restaurant (since it was included in the room rate). It was a la carte rather than buffet and you could order as much as you liked; however we found the basics like fruit salad, home-made yoghurt, pancakes with mango or banana, and cereal a bit more reliable than any dishes with multiple ingredients. Cheese omelettes came filled with some sort of liquidy substance that was so sickly as to be almost inedible (Velveeta?) and hot offerings of ham, eggs etc, whilst of good quality seemed to take an age to cook and often came separately from their supposed accompanying dishes such as toast, so that you couldn’t eat them together, unless at least one of the dishes was stone cold. I don’t want to labour the point too much as the other hotel facilities were excellent and we would definitely recommend Nest Sense and happily stay there again - but the food did need some work.

After breakfast we would either laze by the pool, our routine consisting of a repeating cycle of sunbathing, swimming and mocktail-drinking, or we would head to the beach. The hotel offered a shuttle into town and on to the shore, several times a day, but it was an easy 10-15 minute walk to the beach through town, so we were always happy to go under our own steam. Going on foot also meant we got to peruse the facilities en-route – shops selling swimwear and tie-dye clothing, travel agents peddling excursions to neighbouring islands, Bangkok, or even Cambodia, a chemist which proved invaluable for aftersun and plasters, a 7/11, various massage parlours and of course a range of cocktailing spots and eateries.

Once at the beach we’d hire lurid tangerine-striped deckchairs and buy pineapple smoothies from a stall set up just behind the sand. Smoothies in Thailand don’t usually contain dairy products, generally just fresh fruit and tons of ice, and they always went down a treat. We’d swim in the tepid water which was crystal clear, admiring the view back to shore, with the jungle-choked mountains looming large as a backdrop. Infuriatingly, it was impossible to properly capture the drama of this, as neither of us dared to take our cameras into the water, and the view just wasn’t quite the same from the beach itself.

Our favourite place for lunch was The Guitar House, where whole chickens were cooked on a rotisserie, or portions grilled over charcoal. The chickens were stuffed with herbs – we think lemongrass, thyme and garlic – then served on the bone, with salad and a cold drink for 200 baht. We had the best smoothies of our trip here – made with just oranges and ice. The oranges were small like satsumas and green on the outside, but incredibly sweet. We also tried the lemon smoothies but these were so sharp after the orange version that we struggled to finish them! A little girl helped her mum out in this café, putting drinks and what looked like tubs of yoghurt or jelly into a glass fronted fridge. A large lop-eared rabbit would appear under our table every now and then – I think he must have been a family pet as he looked very well fed and not at all wild. The little girl was always on the look-out for him, but he did quite a good job of evading her, moving from table to table or hiding under the kitchen units!

Other places we ate at included a seafood restaurant (sorry, cannot remember the name) where we had a sort of mixed seafood bbq with flat fish, scallops, squid etc. The squid was a bit rubbery so we fed it to a passing stray cat. We also tried out a pizza place, which I think might have been called the Sleepy Owl, and that was pretty decent, though not particularly cheap.

In the afternoons, we had massages at one of the parlours on the main street – feet for me – Tommy went for full body, and the masseuse used aloe vera to soothe his sunburn. They had to recruit extra staff from a different parlour as there were only ever two ladies working in the place we picked – and one needed to stay and man the front desk (ie call out to passing punters – they always target the men, never the women!). A stray dog came into the salon half way through one of our massages, barked loudly, then abruptly left. We found this amusing as the strays – which loitered everywhere, sleeping in any sunny spot, including the middle of the road much to the consternation of mopeds and songtaews – were usually very quiet and anonymous.

We’d spend early evening back at the resort as there were often spectacular views of the sunset from our west facing villa. Standing on the concrete terrace, we’d snap photos – if you ventured onto the grass, very cross ants would swarm all over your feet and bite you. Once it got dark, we would head back into town for beers and cocktails – we found the best places for these to be Margueritaville and The Magic Cottage. Margueritaville in particular had a range of imaginative signature cocktails fashioned around sweets like the Bounty bar – ie a massive glass of coconut rum, chocolate syrup and shaved ice. Incidentally, they also did really good western food here (burgers cooked medium rare, vast bowls of nachos) if you fancied a non-asian fix. At night, back at the villa, we’d gaze out to sea, enjoying the dramatic electrical storms, bolts of lightning illuminating the distant horizon.

Our last full day on Ko Chang did actually involve us venturing a bit further afield. We booked a snorkelling trip to 3 different islands that departed from a fishing village near Bang Bao. Tommy packed bottled water and hotel towels into rucksacks for us both, and we crammed ourselves into the already overstuffed songtaew that was collecting all the trip participants for the short drive to the pier. At the fishing village, wooden boardwalk leads you through a sizeable covered market on stilts over the water, and out the other side to an area where multiple vessels are moored. I can’t remember the name of our boat specifically, but I do know the tour company was called Sea Hunter. We were directed to the upper deck of the boat, which was full of shouty beery Russians, carrying crates of Chang on their laps (at 9:30 am!!). There was a lengthy introduction – in Russian - and then the tour guide introduced herself to us in English and offered us lifejackets and seasickness pills (which we declined). The boat headed out to sea at a modest pace – the water was flat calm.

It was explained to us that the jetty at the first island had been destroyed in a storm earlier that year and the islanders had decided not to rebuild it as they liked the fact that big vessels could no longer dock there. We thus anchored a short distance off shore and jumped off the back of the boat (which I found quite exciting and a bit dangerous). Even though I’d spent ages picking my snorkel from the communal pile and adjusting it precisely, it still leaked (as did Tommy’s), so after a few mouthfuls of salty water, we eventually abandoned them and just used the masks instead. There were numerous small silvery fish swarming round the boat and I also saw a black angel fish – just the one – but that made it all the more special. I also loved the views of the palm-fringed island in the near distance, with flippered feet occasionally appearing between me and the land as someone else dove down into the water.

Our second island was by far the best of the three – the beach here was powder white sand and the sea a perfect gradient of turquoise. It really was breathtaking. There was a proper live reef here too, and I saw neon parrot fish, enormous but unidentified striped fish, prawns crawling along the seabed, and a terrifying spiky looking thing with huge black needles (anemone meets death star).

The third island was devoid of much to see underwater but was a good beachcombing spot, with shells and rope and all manner of flotsam and jetsam on the shoreline.

We were fed twice on the boat – a buffet of stir-fried chicken, crispy fish, and rice after the second dive, and later on, on the way back to shore, chicken and seafood kebabs were handed out. There was a water cooler on board and free tea and coffee (albeit the latter just instant). Before heading back to the fishing village we made one final stop just off the coast of Ko Chang, to see monkeys coming down onto the rocky shoreline. You aren’t supposed to feed the monkeys whilst you are on the island as it encourages them to come down from the mountain onto the roads where they can get run over, but from the sea (where there are no roads!) it is ok. Our boat sounded its horn and one of the crew hurled watermelon from a sack onto the rocks – and lo! monkeys appeared! It was a pretty cool end to the trip (if you overlook the drunk Russians doing orangutang mines and whoops).

For our final dinner, we caught a songtaew up to Klong Prao beach – about 8km north. We’d picked this destination as I was desperate to see fireflies, and according to TripAdvisor, a couple of the restaurants on the lagoon at Klong Prao gave free boat trips up and down the waterway to look for fireflies if you’d eaten there. The songtaew dropped us off on the main road and we continued the journey on foot, down a side street toward the lagoon. It really wasn’t that far to walk but it was very dark, very quiet and a bit creepy. We came to the Phu Talay seafood restaurant first, so stopped there by default. The restaurant initially put me in mind of a greek taverna, with an unusual (for Thailand) blue and white colour scheme, and we took seats on the terrace right by the lagoon. It was pitch black out on the water and you could hardly see anything beyond the confines of the restaurant. There were also hardly any other customers, and worryingly, no sign of anything that looked like a tender to take you up and down the lagoon on a firefly quest.

We ordered drinks and the staff seemed to really struggle to understand us – the first time we’d had problems anywhere on our trip, and even pointing to the menu didn’t help much as they bought Tommy completely the wrong beer. Actually, he thinks they might have run out of the one he’d asked for as they seemed to be deliberately trying to turn the bottle away from him so he couldn’t read the label. At this point, a bit grumpy at the lack of Singha, he also warned me he was going to poke me with pointy sticks if he got any insect bites whilst we ate. I reminded him he’d used enough deet for the entire island before we set off and also that i was the one the mossies had preferred nibbling on in Chiang Mai anyway, and happily this diffused the situation. We both ordered thai red chicken curries with rice, and slightly unexpectedly after the drinks fiasco and worrying lack of other customers, these were delicious. I enquired about the firefly trips and was met with completely blank stares from the staff, so after settling the bill we cut our losses and flagged down a songtaew back to Lonely Beach where we spent the rest of the evening in Margueritaville.

Ko Chang and snorkelling island pics attachedbr />
https://www.flickr.com/gp/[email protected]/0uZK1H
RM67 is offline  
Jan 1st, 2017, 07:40 AM
  #51  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 52,317
oooo - more lovely photos. as ever, I'm a sucker for an infinity pool and I love the sunsets. Shame you didn't get to see the fireflies but that's part of this sort of travel isn't it? Not everything goes to plan.
annhig is offline  
Jan 1st, 2017, 08:07 AM
  #52  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 304
Love the pictures and settings. Wow!
Colleen is offline  
Jan 1st, 2017, 08:35 AM
  #53  
 
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 12,959
I loved reading this trip report! You are a great writer and even without seeing your awesome pictures, I could see everything because you described it so well. I have never been to Asia. I must admit that the food scares me a little. I can't do spicy and I worry about the water. Reading all this makes me want to go! I need to go with people like you who have been there and could take me from place to place! Thanks for writing this!
girlonthego is offline  
Jan 1st, 2017, 10:06 AM
  #54  
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Thank you so much for all the kind comments - it really does keep me going. And if I can persuade some of you to head east after reading this, so much the better. It was my first trip to the region and I loved it.
RM67 is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2017, 12:13 AM
  #55  
 
Join Date: Apr 2013
Posts: 21,921
Well done, RM. You're quite a writer and I enjoyed your view of these favourite places.
CounterClifton is offline  
Jan 2nd, 2017, 05:05 AM
  #56  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 10,694
What a wonderful trip. Thank you for taking the time to do a trip report. It was a blast following along.
Toucan2 is offline  
Jan 3rd, 2017, 03:20 AM
  #57  
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Thanks all - I have a couple more days to go back in Bangkok and then that's it.

CounterClifton - I am quite intrigued to hear more about your train trip...
RM67 is offline  
Jan 4th, 2017, 06:07 AM
  #58  
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Day 20: Ko Chang to Bangkok

The very last part of our trip consisted of a couple of nights back in Bangkok before the flight home. Unlike the journey down to Ko Chang, we weren’t under time pressure to make multiple connections, so took a cheaper alternative to the private car we’d had a few days earlier, booking seats on a shared minibus. I think it was about 700 or 800 baht per person for the trip door to door, i.e. pick up at Nest Sense resort, drive to island ferry terminal, ferry crossing, mainland ferry terminal to hotel in Bangkok. We booked tickets at the same place we’d booked our snorkeling trip (Leopard tours?), and were up bright and early on Tuesday morning for the 8:30am pickup. Being nearly at the bottom of the island was a big advantage on the return journey, as we were the first to be collected and could nab the best seats, rather than being crammed in the back.

Most of the other passengers were dutifully waiting outside their accomodation, bags packed and ready to go as we pulled up, however one guy kept us waiting further up the island, and on top of that proceeded to try and get the driver to change the itinerary for him and drop him off at a hotel, instead of the airport destination that he’d originally specified. Amusingly, the guy’s wife called him during the ride back and whatever he’d been planning in Bangkok was curtailed as he sheepishly got off at the airport after all. Anyway, I digresss. Thanks to the aforementioned latecomer, we missed the ferry we were scheduled to catch and had an hours wait at the terminal for the next one. There were stalls selling drinks and a shaded area to sit though, so it wasn’t the end of the world, and we waited patiently with iced coffees, saying our last goodbyes to the island.

The ferrys are a bit delapidated – old and rusty - but the service is very efficient – all the vehicles are loaded onto the lower deck in a matter of minutes, and then passengers get out and climb the metal staircase to the upper deck with seating, drinks vendors, and I think, a loo. We sat watching the island slowly recede behind us as we crossed the strait and felt a bit sad. Once on the mainland, the journey back to Bangkok took longer than the one coming down due to heavier traffic in the city centre, and a few unscheduled stops for a poorly passenger to visit a pharmacy, and later on, to be let out to get some air as she was feeling so faint. Tommy wasn’t very sympathetic and as divine punishment lost his phone down the side of one of the seats and wasn’t able to retrieve it till close to the end of our journey.

Finally (it took 8.5 hours in total) we were at the Marriot Sukhumvit. This was our splurge hotel for the last two nights (we’d allowed ourselves a larger room budget as a treat to end the holiday). We actually found it harder to decide on a hotel once we'd upped the budget, as Bangkok has an absolute wealth of luxury accomodation, and it was quite difficult to narrow it down – I fancied the Shanghai Mansion (too girly/pink/silky for Tommy), he liked the Muse (too dark and blokey for me), we both liked the Sala Rattanakosin right on the river with views of the stunning Wat Arun, but Tommy pointed out that the temple was covered in scaffolding for restoration, and even though scheduled to be finished by the time we got out there, might well not be (he turned out to be right on this). In the end, we plumped for the Marriot, which had simple oriental styling (silver japanese screens on the bedroom wall, dark furniture, marble bathrooms, a rooftop bar, lots of promising looking eateries, and 5 star rating) – and, even though I'm not normally a fan of big chains, this turned out to be an excellent choice.

We had made it to the hotel in the nick of time for sunset, so both quickly got changed into something a bit smarter for the Octave rooftop bar (which turned out to be unecessary, as the dress code was much more relaxed than we’d originally been led to believe). The bar complex consisted of about 4 different levels at the top of the hotel, and we went up to the very top one initially, where an illuminated circular glass bar was manned by waistcoated staff shaking and pouring all manner of delicious things as the sun started to go down. The hostess led us to a table right by the glass barrier at the edge of the building so we could see out across the city. The incredible 360 panorama included distant skyscrapers, all manner of rooftop gardens and swimming pools on buildings closer by, a mercurial Chaopraya threading its way through the metropolis, and the skytrain coming and going silently, 49 floors below us. As the sky became increasingly orange, we worked our way through a good percentage of the signature cocktails, which were all half price for the three hour happy hour. I started with Angel Lips (chivas regal, grand marnier, pink grapefruit juice and bitters) and I think Tommy had a Jack Twist (more chivas regal, this time with antica, vanilla, herb syrup and bitters). We progressed onto Shining Suns (Havana club, tamarind, pomelo, pineapple and absinthe) and then I ticked off my bucketlist ‘blue cocktail on a rooftop bar’ going for a Bee Tranquil (gin, lychee syrup, yuzu, honey and blue curacao) which was almost aquamarine in colour and made me feel a bit funny. Staff passed effortlessly by with carefully balanced trays of martini and highball glasses, stopping occasionally to deposit bowls of nuts on the tables, or to take photos of customers silhouetted against the sunset.

I really didn’t want to leave, but we’d not eaten much all day, so eventually we tore ourselves away and headed down a couple of levels to another part of the bar that also served food. The staff here were incredibly apologetic that they didn’t have any of the seats with the really stellar views left on this lower level, but we were perfectly happy with where we were put, still by the glass balustrade, and still with a vast expense of the city stretched out in front of us. We ordered a yakatori platter and it was cooked on an outdoor grill just a few feet away from us. This was honestly one of the best things we ate all trip – wagyu beef which was like butter in texture, salmon, black cod, mushrooms, prawns and broccoli, all on skewers. More cocktails to help it down, and the staff (we had a lovely femboy serving us) coming over every now and then, asking if we wanted to be moved to better seats and checking if everything was alright.

After dinner it was back to our room where I had a long bath in the circular tub, which had fabulous views of the skyline. Tommy had bought me Molton Brown goodies to use on holiday and I used half a bottle of the Heavenly Gingerly bubble bath in one go, making enormous amounts of suds and topping up the water every time I started to go a bit pruney and wrinkled. Did I mention I loved this hotel!

Pictures attachedbr />
https://www.flickr.com/photos/494523...57676533261921
RM67 is offline  
Jan 6th, 2017, 09:14 AM
  #59  
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Day 21: Bangkok

We left the Marriot for an early morning stroll, keeping an eye out for somewhere suitable to eat breakfast en-route. Heading first down Soi Sukhumvit 55, then turning into a little side street (Soi Thonglor 17) we came across The Commons, a small but very smart mall, specialising in gourmet food shops and cafes. The complex was only just opening when we arrived, and we started at Roots on the ground floor, a coffee bar with concrete counters and 50s-style teal-coloured espresso cups. We tried a different roast each and ate huge, flaky almond croissants, whilst chatting with the proprietor, who let Tommy test free samples of the unusual cold filtered coffees that were also on sale there, telling him to look out for marmalade notes, malty notes etc.

Moving on round the mall we passed an egg counter just setting up – ‘Egg My God’ - with a vast menu of both savoury and sweet dishes, eggs poached, scrambled, fried, boiled, in crepes, and en cocotte. Opposite the egg place was a lobster bar, devoid of any seafood at that point, trays of ice still awaiting their crustacea, and just round the corner, a large craft beer terrace. There was also an indoor bbq area – Meat and Bones - which we earmarked as a possible venue for our evening meal.

Upstairs we came to Roast, which had an enormous brunch menu, and decided we’d have our second breakfast here – a croque monsieur for me, full of strong mustard and proper melty cheese – and I can’t remember what Tommy had - it might well have been eggs benedict because he loves that and chooses it a lot, but I couldn’t put my hand on my heart and say that it definitely was. I do know that he had a cherry coke float to drink, which I thought stretched the definition of breakfast/brunch somewhat, but he was completely unrepentant.

We finished by perusing a few of the non-foody shops in the complex – there was quite a nice audio store where we tried on very hipster-looking square leather and wood headphones, but they didn’t sound nearly as good as they looked unfortunately. There was also a boutique full of lovely bohemian clothes and jewellery, a florist, and a couple of crèches for wealthy thai mummies to dump the kids at whilst they ate pancakes or French toast upstairs.

After a brief diversion to a currency exchange type place for Tommy to get out (or pay in – I’m not quite sure which) some cash, we grabbed a taxi to our next port of call - a snake farm and clinic. The farm site was right by Chulalongkorn hospital, the entire complex comprising a mixture of 60s high rise plus older colonial style buildings with wooden shutters and verdant gardens. The purpose of the farm is to produce venom for anti-venom medication and medical research. Although you could see a lot of the snakes in a small zoo-like area, consisting of footpaths and wooden boardwalk weaving round tanks and cages outside, we’d come mainly to catch the daily show, in which the snakes are actually brought out to meet visitors face to face.

There was an area of concrete terracing, about 5 or 6 rows deep to view the show from, and knowing Tommy is not a huge fan of snakes, I opted for the back row. ‘Is this far enough’ I asked. ‘Not nearly’ came the dry reply. After a short wait, white coated attendants started to appear, holding the various exhibits up for photos, whilst a compere told us a bit about each species, such as their natural habitat, how poisonous they were etc etc. Most of the snakes seemed quite docile and used to being handled, and the staff would often put them down on the concrete floor and let them slither around a bit before collecting them up again. However, at one point two cobras were bought out, and unlike the other snakes, these were very bad tempered – the minute they were released they turned round to face the audience, reared up and spat into the crowd. It didn’t help alleviate any fears when I spotted that one of the attendants had a heavily bandaged arm! At the end of the show a large yellow python was also brought out and people came down to pose for photos with him – we passed on this, because as interested as we were in the good work done by the clinic, we didn’t particularly want to interact with any of the snakes ourselves.

It was a fairly short walk from the farm to the nearest BTS station, where we caught the train to Thong Lo, a stop handily situated right outside our hotel. Once back in our room, Tommy opted for a nap, and I decided to visit the pool and spa complex. Taking the lift down to the 9th floor, I found a sizeable infinity pool outside, with a large decked area where there were wooden loungers, parasols, and a poolside bar. Almost all the loungers were taken but the pool itself was empty, so I was able to have really quite a decent swim. There was also a smaller plunge pool/Jacuzzi type thing but some selfish arses had parked their loungers right next to it, so it was almost impossible to gain access. I had an hour or so by the pool alternating between swimming, sunbathing and reading my book, but the sun was moving round rapidly, and there was something a bit disturbing about seeing dozens of people all lined up silently on their loungers, pink and sunburnt, staring at tablets like intelligent prawns on a giant rooftop grill, so I made my way back to the room just before 5pm.

After rousing Tommy, we got changed for another rooftop cocktail session in the Octave and stayed even longer than the previous night. So long in fact, that we did not have the energy to go out after all, instead heading to a little café in the hotel foyer where we purchased an in-room picnic of fabulous lamb and mint pies and French patisserie. Amusingly, the café also had a happy hour, so everything we brought there was half price too, just like our earlier cocktails. Back in our hotel room the sizeable amount of booze I’d consumed earlier kept me awake a fair while, so whilst Tommy slept, I got myself a cold Pepsi from the minibar and sat on the windowsill, watching the BTS trains come and go across the Bladerunner-like landscape below.
RM67 is offline  
Jan 6th, 2017, 06:43 PM
  #60  
 
Join Date: Apr 2013
Posts: 21,921
I am quite intrigued to hear more about your train trip.

Oh, you don't want to visualise that night, trust me.
CounterClifton is offline  

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