a train, a parade and a ferry

From markets to sleeper trains.  On the Sunday evening we headed back to Hualumphong to wait for our sleeper.  Despite all the street food we had eaten at JJ we were all still ravenous so we took it in turns to look for a bite to eat that looked a little more appetising than that on offer at the station food court.

The Boss and I found a lovely street cafe, a few chairs and a small stall.  A selection of pork, rice, half a hard-boiled egg and endless iced tea.  The girls went in the other direction and found an apparently excellent noodle bar.  All in all the food choices around the market are not great.  There are several stalls selling fruit bags, banana rice and waffles and we later found a small noodle bar by the station itself but that was about it.  To be fair it was a Sunday and we were in the middle of the business district and there did seem to be more on offer when we were there on Thursday but if you have time to kill and an appetite, eat before you arrive.

On the subject of food.  We were in first class, which costs only a little more than second but sells out very fast.  Tickets go on sale 3 months before departure so if you know your itinerary, book asap.  In first they offer you food.  Don’t bother.  We got caught out by a steward offering us glasses of orange juice before we departed.  How lovely we thought – how pricey we thought when we were offered the bill.  We made the mistake of ordering breakfast and went for the sandwiches.  The Thais like sugar.  I have never tasted sweet mayonnaise before.  Suffice to say one mouthful was enough.  Apparently the fruit juice that came with it was even sweeter.

Fortunately we had stocked up beforehand with fruit bags, banana rice, seaweed (me only!) cremos (the girls – exactly like oreos but half the price), dried fruit and nuts. I suggest you do the same.  There is a small store in the station and two 7/11 stores about 5 minutes walk away via the metro subway.

We had a connecting cabin with the girls – who insisted it was kept closed!  The steward came to make up the beds around 8.30.  They were excellent, larger and more comfortable than the Highland sleeper and the top bunk has a barrier put up so no falling off in the night.

A word about the air con.  It is wonderful – but VERY powerful (apparently the top bunk is warmer – I’m having that one next time). We never found the controls so I had rather an icy night, however the girls worked out they were controlled manually on each air vent.  Failing that bag the top bunk and let the cold air sink to the person in the bunk below!

We were woken with the aforementioned breakfast and a welcome cup of tea at 6am and pulled into Surat Thani at about 7am.  Pretty much on time.

IMG_3599

All very efficient, our ferry vouchers were exchanged for tickets.  The Boss and the chap in charge of the buses to the ferry waxed lyrical over Phuket and Ko Samui 30 years ago and I went to investigate the parade.

This was one of the smartest parades I had seen for a long time, albeit with a rather incongruous bride like young woman at the front.  Apparently it was National Health Day and health workers across Thailand were parading and being appreciated.  Perhaps something the NHS should think about, it needs some love.

The bus ride from Surat Thani to the ferry is a lot longer than any of us expected – at least an hour, an hour and 15 minutes.  But the bus is air conditioned – even if some of the signs are redundant.  There are no seat belts!

 

We took the catamaran to Ko Samui, which is a lot faster than the regular ferry.  If you manage to blag a seat on the top deck (where the views are amazing) do take lots of sun cream in your hand luggage, all cases (though not back packs) are put in the hold.  Failing that there is a very pleasant air-conditioned room downstairs.

IMG_7891

On arrival it is mayhem.  We had a hire car ordered so it was a bit easier for us.  There are hotel pick ups, taxi touts, everyone!

On the car hire front we were recommended to take photographs of all the scratches and dents on the car even if they had been written down.  Just in case!

Then off to Sea Dance.

The roads are good until you turn off the main drag.  Turnings can be very small and what you think is a dirt track may well be your road so keep your eyes open.

The oasis that awaited was stunning.  We had a two roomed hut with private pool.

The main pool was pretty stunning too.

The food outstanding (more about our cookery lesson later).  We were hungry.  Margarita and lunch.

 

This is breakfast.  I usually start with yoghurt and fruit salad.

IMG_3680

The Boss prefers honey on his.  My favourite juices are watermelon or carrot but there are all the usual suspects.  I usually follow with dim sum and banana pancakes, I know, but it’s my breakfast and I like it.  However if you feel the urge, there is pad Thai, Tom Gha, bacon, sausages, eggs cooked to order…

And endless pastries, croissants, toast and home-made preserves all in an airy dining room with a stunning view.

 

But most important the staff, they are out of this world, nothing is too much and they are friendly and helpful and just gorgeous.  Faith is a star and can organise anything, I am sure she could arrange for Pink Floyd to play at dinner if we asked nicely enough!

Love Gillie

in which we shop till we drop and buy almost nothing

P1020372

If I could say only one word about shopping in Bangkok it would have to be JJ (Chattachuk) market.  The Volunteer has waxed lyrical about Monday markets, floating markets and night markets. But the one that comes up time and time again is JJ Market.   It is the largest market in Thailand and covers over 27 acres. Believe me that is one heck of a market.

P1020370

It sells everything, and I do mean everything.  It has its dark side and on the advice of the volunteer we did not go into the pet section.  Even walking past the apparently mild outside my heart and stomach were sick to see huge fish in tiny bags and turtles and mice piled high in boxes.

There were also some seriously scary mannequins.

P1020378

However, the rest of the market was fascinating.  It is divided into sections so in theory you can find what you want.  But over 27 acres of “sections” still makes it extremely easy to get lost, several times!  With the help of the volunteer and a couple of online language apps I have learned some basic Thai and “mai ao kaa” is a polite and handy way to ensure you don’t get hassled (literally “I don’t take”)

P1020379

The Boss and I had foot and shoulder massage.  Now I like a hard and brutal massage, I can’t be doing with namby pamby gentle wafting of the hands.  I have had some deep and hard massages in my time, but boy did this little Thai lady get deep and strong on my poor western muscles.  Great but not for the fainthearted or those with low pain thresholds.

My favourite section, was the food one!  We had some sumptuous spring rolls from the stall that the Volunteer recommended.

But every stall was piled high.

There is little you cannot buy and the Volunteer arrived with a shopping list, memory bank, charging cable, t-shirts and flip flops.  But whether you wanted a new teak sofa, a beach dress,  more craft items than Hobbycraft has even dreamed of, or a working antique telephone I found them all at JJ.

It’s easy to get to by BTS (Mo Chit and follow the crowds) or metro (Chattachuk Park).  I don’t recommend taxi or tuk tuk.  The traffic makes rush hour in Naples look like a country lane.  Go early whilst it is relatively (and I use the term carefully!) quiet but more importantly not so hot.  Midday at JJ is crowded and very hot.  There are plenty of places to sit and eat snacks and lots of “refreshment stations” but precious few where you can sit down and just have a drink.  There is one lovely exception.  Head to section 7 (the 7 sign at the end of the long street closest to the stations)  facing the 7 sign turn left and you will see a little rest area just at the entrance to the home decor and art section.  We left my husband there whilst we went for a wander and came back an hour or so later to find him deep in conversations with his new friend Saul from Singapore whose wife was also shopping.  This was his third visit during this trip!

 

Enjoy!

Love Gillie  x

 

boats, temples and cocktails

The plan was to get up early and head off to JJ Market.  The Boss and I woke at 8am but still rather jet lagged decided to have a little more snooze.  The girls had been out for cocktails – we discovered the note when we got up.  Which was a long time before they got up!  Poor old PT Volunteer has hardly touched any alcohol for six months.  She was a little the worse for wear!

Eventually we made it to the pier to get the hop on off ferry down the river.  PT Volunteer was not keen on the boat plan and got little sympathy from her sister (something to do with an incident whilst interailing and “just deserts”!).

First stop was Wat Arun.  Golden Buddhas and exquisite mosaics.

We were stopped by two young students who asked if we would take a short survey for a school project.  When asked how we would sum up Thailand in one word we both answered in unison “friendly”  which just about says it all.  I have traveled a lot, both back packing, luxury and everything in between and I am hard pressed to think of a single country which exudes welcome and friendliness so much.

We crossed over to the other side of the river with a view to visiting the Grand Palace but we had left it rather late and instead decided to take a long tail boat through the canals of Old Bangkok.  Hearing the news that she had another hour in a boat the PT volunteer began to pale visibly.  Again her sister failed to weep with sympathy.

It was a fascinating water stroll through the back streets of Bangkok.

Quick dash back to our apartment to change and a tuk tuk over to the other side of town for dinner with the PT Volunteer’s partner’s family who are also over visiting and two other volunteers who were over from Isaan en route to their own holidays.  Never has so much noise been made and so much food been eaten by only nine people.  We still managed to make room for a couple of cocktails at Cloud 47.

Tomorrow  we WILL be up early for JJ!

Love Gillie x

 

 

Save

in which the geographer gets lost

IMG_3586

I learned a new trick this week – how to get the seats with extra legroom when flying cattle.

Emirates, and I presume most other airlines, keep back the bulkhead and emergency exit seats when booking online.  However, if you arrive early at baggage drop and ask if you can be moved – hey presto!  So from Newcastle to Dubai we had bulkhead seats and from Dubai to Bangkok we faced the emergency exit and could stretch our legs practically into the next cabin.  Thank me later.

So we arrived, tired bu in one piece.  We found our hotel.  Which is more than the PT volunteer, Geography student daughter did.  Our hotel is at 73 Sukhumvit 13.  The Geographer took the skyrail to the bottom of Sukhumvit 13 and rang us to ask where we were (more about the phone later).  At that point the Boss and I had left sleeping daughter at the hotel and were having a cold drink in a bar opposite a building site on what I later learned was Sukhumvit 11.  I described the building site but we decided our cranes were not the same ones (it later transpired they were).  So I gave the Geographer our hotel adress (again) and she decided to get a taxi.  An hour or so later she rang again, describing her surroundings it did not sound as if she was anywhere near us.  “Where did you get the taxi to take you?” I asked.  “13 Sukhumvit 73” she replied.  This, I remind you is the girl who is going to read Geography next year!

P1020328

She made it at last and yesterday she took us out to visit her school and meet her colleagues.  The train was interesting.  We were a feature of interest.  Some Europeans do take the train to visit Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand,.  But very few venture further to Tha Rua!

P1020335

We were taken out to lunch by Bea’s colleagues to a wonderful fish restaurant.

P1020306

I don’t think I have eaten so well and so much in a long time (though we managed another massive meal that evening at a streetfood cafe!).  And then a quick visit to her school and new home.

P1020323

It was lovely to see both how happy she was and how much her colleague and pupils loved her.

 

Oh and the phone?  I got a mysterious call on Thursday afternoon from an unknown Thai number.  It took several attempts for a connection to be made – it was the Geographer.  She had left her English phone at Tha Rua station and was using her Thai phone!  Fortunately her fellow volunteer picked it up later in the day and it will  make its way back to its owner this evening.  For how long however remains to be seen!

Love Gillie x

 

packing light

“Is 11 dresses too many?”  Eighteen year old daughter packing for a fortnight in Thailand.  I’m going for three weeks and only have two dresses!  Extreme measures needed to be taken.  “But they’re so pretty …”  Reader, I took her in hand and culled about 70% of her proposed packing.  Heaven knows how she is going to cope traveling through California in the summer with only a backpack!

When I accompanied the Boss on his lecture tour of Australia three years ago I managed to curtail my packing to this.   This time we are going to Thailand for three weeks, Bangkok, Koh Samui, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.  I reckon I have managed a reasonably decent pack.  Here is the suitcase with just the clothes in it.

IMG_3578

  • 1  pair of cargo trousers that convert to bermuda shorts
  • 1 pair of loose palazzoish trousers
  • 1 pair 3/4 length leggings
  • 1 jersey maxi skirt
  • 1 jersey maxi sundress
  • 1 short sleeved dress
  • 4 tee shirts
  • 1 light long sleeved top
  • 1 long light scarf
  • 1 pair birkenstocks
  • 1 pair vivo barefoot shoes
  • 1 pair flat comfy but smart sandals
  • Swimsuit and Turkish lightweight towel

Once again I have stuck to my blue and white theme (the same one I used in Australia but different clothes!)

I was feeling remarkably proud of myself until I then had to put in all the other bits and bobs, portable bbq and bamboo cutlery, knitting (well of course!) and then all the requests from the daughter in Thailand.  Custard powder was non-negotiable.  At least most of this I can leave behind with her.  Which is essential as I am planning on a little silk shopping!

IMG_0069

It is always easier to pack light for a trip to a hot climate, but I reckon, that had I wanted to go hand luggage only and didn’t have to take half of Sainbury’s with me I could have managed it with ease.

Love Gillie x

 

ten things I have learned about having a lousy internet connection

“High Speed Broadband has arrived”, not in this pocket of County Durham it hasn’t.  It may be all flash downloads and wall to wall Netflix a mile away in the village but in our own little notspot carrier pigeons were more reliable and considerably faster.  Not for us a weekend binge of box sets and Sky on Demand. Estimated download time for a single film was over 10 hours.  On a good day we could get 1 Mbps on a bad day it just ran out of juice.

When the bad days began to outnumber the good days and the only way we could send work to clients was to use a dongle and sit on the drive (under an umbrella if it was raining) we decided enough was enough and took our laptops to a coffee shop with decent wifi and did a bit of research.  We are now the proud owners of a mastband internet connection.  We can watch films, we can send work without sitting in the garden.  We have joined the 21st Century.

However if you are still in the internet dark ages, these are a few things I learned.

  1. Nothing is on paper anymore.  If you need to know what time your local Tesco Metro opens on a Sunday you are going to have to go out and stand outside until it opens and note down the time for next time.
  2. Telephone directories were quite useful not just as door stops but also, oddly enough,  for looking up telephone numbers
  3. Social media has too many photographs.  Photographs, videos and pictures take ages to download.  My FB newsfeed had been visually redacted.  Great blank squares all over it.
  4. If you haven’t recorded it you aren’t going to see it.  Catch up tv services were not an option. “Listen again” was but a dream for us.
  5. Your children will fail all their exams.  Or so they tell you.  It is apparently completely impossible to revise for A-Levels without a functioning internet.
  6. Your children will have no social life.  Or so they tell you.  Unless they can sit in bed and watch Netflix with their friends they are social pariahs.
  7. You will spend a lot of time on the  phone playing solitaire on your (unconnected) lap top listening to a recorded message saying “all our operators are busy at the moment but you can resolve your problem by going to our website.”  Oh no I can’t.
  8. You can’t join in any conversations about online grocery shopping.  See above about pictures and social media.  Supermarket websites have even more pictures.
  9. You can’t answer those nagging little questions like “Who’s that actress on the left of the guy who used to be in Eastender?” or cheat on the Saturday general knowledge crossword by looking up the answer to “who invented the bunsen burner?” (Robert Bunsen btw).
  10. You cannot have more than one tab open on your browser and don’t even think about sending a file by email when somebody else is trying to download something on another laptop.  Multitasking on line is a guaranteed way to bring the network to its knees.

IMG_3575

But now, I can listen to the Archers podcasts.    I have a Spotify account.  I watched the first series of Fortitude in a box set binge and I have discovered there are pictures on Facebook – and a lot of them are of cats!

Love Gillie x

messy and the magic of building 20

According to a study by the University of Minnesota messy people are more creative and more intelligent and more creative than tidy ones.  As I like to think of myself as reasonably intelligent and quite creative I was slightly put out as I cannot bear an untidy desk or an untidy kitchen or studio.  Where I work (and even where I sleep) I need order.  I have watched my husband put a chopping board on top of the Sunday papers and start preparing dinner.  Now whilst I am delighted that he helps I want to scream at the disorder.  Instead I remove the newspapers whilst his back is turned.

179297_186175388073934_2051692_n

How I like to work

I can understand the theory behind messy spaces and creativity.  I just can’t put it into practice, it pains me too much.  So it was with some trepidation and some excitement that I started to read Tim Harford’s book “Messy”. Subtitled “How to be creative and resilient in a tidy minded world”, I wondered what I could learn about how to bring messiness into my life.

Beginning with Keith Jarrett’s famous concert in Cologne which almost never happened because the piano was frankly rubbish but became an iconic and best-selling jazz album, he takes us through a wide range of stories about people, music, books and even buildings that became something amazing because in one way or another they were messy.

My favourite example was Building 20 at MIT.  Built during the Second World War as a temporary structure and only given planning permission on the grounds it was knocked down as soon as the war was over it went on to survive 55 years and became a magical incubator of ideas, research and innovation.  Why?  Because it was in theory a dreadful design.

MIT

Building 20 MIT  (copyright MIT Computer Graphics Group

Huge long corridors with more corridors coming off at right angles, the corridors were named by letter and the rooms by number, unlike most American buildings and all of the rest of the MIT buildings  where the ground floor is 1, the first floor 2 etc. building 20  began with 0 for Ground and 1 for the floor above etc.The main corridor was corridor C  and those that came off it were  A, B, D, E and F.  So a room on the first floor on corridor B could be 20B-133.  Even the permanent residents were always getting lost.

Second, it was a dumping ground for projects that had nowhere else to go.  Amar Bose was struggling to finish his dissertation and decided to buy a hi-fi.  He was appalled by the quality and noticed that he was next to the acoustics lab.  The dissertation was abandoned and he practically moved in to play in the lab.  Three years later he produced a contraption with 22 speakers inside.  Thus was the Bose Corporation born.  There was a homeless botanist who squatted where he could find space, apparently he turned down a job at the Field Museum in Chicago to remain in Building 20, MIT later tried to evict him but lost the case!  Noam Chomsky the anti-establishment linguist was next to the Reserve Officer Training Corps and the ice research lab.  Solar car researchers (who used the corridors as roads) were next to the anthropologists.  There was even a piano repair shop with the proud sign “computer free zone”.

The geography of the building and the chaotic allocation of rooms forced people who would never normally have crossed paths to become friends.  People were always getting lost and found new labs and projects.  The long corridors gave people time to talk as they looked for the room they wanted.  Ideas and  projects grew out of chance meetings and lost souls.

Finally, nobody worried about the building.  It was supposed to have lasted only a few years after all.  The infrastructure was run along exposed walls.  If you wanted a phone line, an electric socket you just hacked straight in.   If you wanted to run a wire from one room to another you didn’t have to put in a request and wait six months.  You got out your drill and made a hole.  The team building the atomic clock removed a whole floor in order to make room for it!

This is the messy I can understand.  It is why places like Hubud in Bali work so well.  I have a friend who spent 3 months building her online personal styling business there.  She speaks glowingly of the mish-mash of people and skills in a small place which encourages and supports cross-fertilisation not possible in a trendy co-working space in Shoreditch where everyone goes home at the end of the day.

I have an idea for a small start-up.  It is nothing like anything I have ever done or even thought about before.  The idea came to me during a conversation with a dentist, and it has nothing to do with dentistry or teeth, but her need lit up a little bulb in  my head.  She has no idea of the seed she planted.

Messy is not, for me at least, being untidy it is about getting out of boxes, it is about building your own Building 20.

Love Gillie x