Saturday, April 12, 2008


I got back from a trip to Thailand last Saturday. I meant to blog about it earlier, but was tired and then I had to go back to work. So, before I completely forget about it, I'll try and write it up.
The things I didn't like about Thailand were:

  • Getting there and back (including airline food, long waits at airports, and security checks that start to feel degrading)
  • Pollution and rubbish (but these were definitely no worse than the UK)
  • The seedy side of Thailand (Thai brides and lady-boys)
  • Having to leave (and having missed the last few episodes of The Soporanos on terrestrial TV)
Something else that doesn't quite make that list is that there's no standard way to write Thai words with roman characters, so things were sometimes spelled differently in on maps than on signs, and it was, therefore, occasionally difficult to find our way around.

Pretty much everything else was amazing. The people were super friendly (without being overbearing or intrusive), the food was amazing, and the weather was fantastic (when it's 30C, I don't care if it rains a little bit).

We started off at (Koh) Samui, which is basically a tropical island, with all the things that go with that - palm trees; white sands; turquoise, warm sea; and coconuts.
We obviously looked the worse for wear when we got there, as the hotelier let us go straight to our "bungalow" (thatched roof, veranda, and, thankfully, air conditioning) without signing in.

The first full day there, we set off down Lamai beach (we were staying at the quiet, north, end of it) to find some breakfast. We didn't do particularly well in this regard, and ended up wandering for about three hours, in the middle of the day. We eventually stopped at a café to get a cold drink, and Amy nearly fainted. The café owner was really kind, and let Amy lie down in one of her rooms, gave us lots of free drinks, and then tried to refuse a tip.

We did eventually find Radiance restaurant at the Spa Resort. The food there was really good, and we ate most of our meals there, as it was close and good. We ate at a few other places, but didn't really explore much as we weren't there that long.

The wedding, which was the reason why we went to Thailand in the first place, was nice. It was right on the beach, on a private little cove, and there were lots of flower petals, and fancy Thai dancing (which is, understandably, slow and doesn't involve a huge amount of movement - any attempt at frantic ballet wouldn't last long in that heat). The food was well presented, and tasty enough.

We did go in the sea once - near where we were staying it was only 50cm or so deep, and really warm. We ended up staying in for about 1 1/2 hours, it was really lovely.
I regret that we didn't stay in Samui a bit longer, but we'd read it was really touristy (which it was in places), and, despite being tourists ourselves, the thought of lounging on the beach, drinking lots and generally doing the same thing as we could in England didn't appeal. Despite the reports, Lamai (where we stayed) wasn't nearly as bad as Chaweng (where the airport is), and we could have happily spent a few more days there.

The rest of our trip was spent in Chiang Mai, the "capital of the north". It's not a huge city but there was lots of places to wander, lots of really good vegetarian restaurants, literally too many Wats (temples/monasteries) to see, and it kept us occupied for the 9 (10?) days we were there. We bought the incredibly helpful Nancy Chandler map of Chiang Mai, which I found more useful than the (two) guide books we took with us.

We stayed at Tri Gong Residence, and the owner was really nice. I'd stupidly sent him the wrong arrival date and we arrived a day later than he was expecting, but he still let us stay (initially in a twin room, then a double when one became available), and wouldn't hear of us compensating him in anyway. When we left, his son took us to the airport, and only charged us the same as the (stupidly reasonable) airport taxi.

Three of our days in Chiang Mai were spent at A Lot Of Thai cookery school. Yui, the instructor, was really friendly, super knowledgeable (especially about the ingredients), and the both Amy and I really enjoyed our time there.
We made six (small) meals each day we were there, and so were well and truly full by the time we left.
The biggest things I learned were:
  • Thai food isn't just about Thai Curry.
  • You can cook cucumber - even in a soup.
  • That Thai food doesn't have to be stupidly hot - there are enough flavours in the dishes to be able to make them with no chilli and for them to still be satisfying
  • The more you chop/mince chilli, and the longer you cook it for, the hotter it will be. You can cut up chillies and sprinkle them over  meal, and, providing you don't eat them, you'll not have to put the (proverbial?) toilet roll in the freezer.
It gave me a good understanding of Thai food, and also the confidence and enthusiasm to try lots of different dishes whilst we were there  - even from street vendors. When we got back, we went over to Manchester's China Town to gather ingredients (and a wok), and we've been able to cook some Thai food at home (it doesn't taste quite as good though).

The rest of the time in Chiang Mai we wandered around a lot - we spent at least two days looking at Wats (temples/monasteries) and Chedis. Despite having been told that Thai's only have one style of temple that they build in varying sizes, they were all unique, and all had different things to see. Sure, the Buddha images were mostly similar (apart from a few fusions between Buddhism and Brahmanism), but the buildings and murals all differed, and the level of ornamentation was astounding.

Throughout our trip, I was constantly surprised by the lack of pestering/hard sell. Several tuk-tuk drivers offered to take us places we didn't really want to go, and mostly when we said that we didn't want to go, they dropped it. This was really nice, especially compared to my India trip, where we were followed down the road by hawkers trying to peddle their wears.
In Chiang Mai, we even ran into the same bloke twice (I don't think he recognised us), and we had a friendly chat before he offered to take us to the Umbrella Museum (apparently not as boring as it sounds), and when we said we weren't that bothered, we continued chatting.

Overall, as I've said previously, I really enjoyed my time there, and it hit home how much when, on arriving back at Manchester Airport, and needing some caffeine-based stimulation before I could drive home, we paid nearly £5 for two gritty, nasty coffees from the café at the airport. (In Thailand, £5 paid for a moderately expensive meal for 2).

We did loads of other stuff than this, so I've only really outlined the things that stand out. I'm sure some people will have a much fuller version of it when I meet up with them next.

Oh, and there were Common Myna birds everywhere, which made a welcome change from the rooks and crows we get round here.

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