A Lesson In Perspective

My long long wait at the consulate this morning ( more of which to come) was by anyone’s standards awful, sitting around for 2 and a half hours to hand in some papers and another hour and a bit to pay for the privilege made me a little grumpy.

But boy did I give myself a lesson in perspective this afternoon.

Without a small one in tow I was able to visit a place that I wanted to see last time round but was unable to due to point blank refusal and tiredness of said small person.

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COPE visitors centre is located within the grounds of the Vientiane rehabilitation centre. COPE is a non profit organisation that, amongst other things, provides prosthetic limbs and support for victims of unexploded ordinance (UXO) in Laos. The fact that this organisation is so desperately needed is a shame on the western world.

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Now while I don’t have the best grasp of recent history I do credit myself with a little knowledge of the Vietnam war. I’ve been to the movies. But what I learned recently was both surprising and shocking. This afternoon reduced me to teary mess.

Now what has the Vietnam war got to do with Laos ? It’s a different country which was neutral and not directly involved in the war. Yes, it borders Vietnam, but it wasn’t involved was it?

Horribly the answer to that question is an emphatic yes. But not through its own choice. The Vietnamese troops used Laos as a supply corridor and as such it was considered by the US army as an ally and therefore a legitimate target. Despite agreements made and ratified by the Geneva convention the US army dropped more bombs on Laos between the years 1964 and 1973 than were used by all troops combined in the Second World War. It is estimated ( using the US army’s own statistics ) that more than 2 million tons of ordinance were dropped on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions, equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years – making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. A country that wasn’t supposed to be involved in the war.

The US army used the reasoning that they were destroying the supply lines of the Vietnamese troops to justify the bombing in what they called ‘ the other theatre’. Even if it were only that it would be atrocious, what I learned today is that If a plane missed its designated target in Vietnam it was under orders to use one of the ‘free drop zones’ in the north of Laos to divest itself of its payload as it was unsafe for it to land fully loaded.

It is estimated that around 70% of these bombs detonated as they should have at the time, which means that around 30% didn’t. 30% of unexploded cluster bombs still on the ground. That’s an approximate 80 million explosives primed and ready to explode when they are discovered. EIGHTY MILLION.

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Since the end of the war ( that Laos was NOT in ) over 20,000 people have been killed. Over 8,000 of those were children.

It has been dubbed ‘The secret war’ as many of these details have only come to light in the west in last 20 years.

The legacy of these unconscionable acts is that 1/3 of the land mass of Laos is deemed to be unsafe due to the high presence of UXO. 1/3 of the landmass. That is a HUGE amount of land that could potentially kill you. As over 70 % of the population is dependent on farming not just as a living, but to feed their families the amount of families that risk death and disability by the simple act of ploughing a field, or lighting a fire to cook is phenomenal.

The trade in scrap metal is big business in Laos, many people supplement their small incomes by selling scrap metal to foundries. Due to the vast amounts of ordinance dropped during the war there are a lot of metal fragments to be found in the overgrown wilderness. It was this that reduced me to a watery mess this afternoon as I watched the story, told just a few years ago, of a small boy who went out looking for scrap with his friends so that he could afford to buy a present for his mothers birthday.
Both of his friends died instantly when they found an unexploded cluster bomb. Hamm, the little boy in question, was badly injured but none of the hospitals nearby had any supplies that could help him and he died in agony several hours later. He was 9. The same age as my little girl.

Laos is an extremely poor developing nation, something that is easy to forget when sitting in a terrace bar in the capital city, and there just isn’t the money available to clear the huge swathes of contaminated land. 50 years after the end of he war and just 1% of the land has been declared safe. Until 100% of this land has been cleared the economic and social development of this country is effectively stalled.

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There are many organisations that are trying their best to do this and deal with the fallout, but without funding there is little that can be done.

I will add some links at the bottom of this post and if you feel so inclined then please donate if you can. If you can’t then at least spread the word so more people can know what is happening today, now, because of a 50 year old conflict that continues to claim innocent victims ruin the lives of generations.

Jer Gan Mài

COPE Laos

legacies of war

UXO Laos

MAG international

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Flying Solo

I’m oddly unenthusiastic about this trip.

I’m off to Vientiane in Laos to apply for my one year Thai Visa.
The reason I’m going to Laos is that you cannot apply for an education visa inside Thailand. It has to be done a a consulate or embassy on foreign soil and Laos is the most convenient .
No. I don’t know why I have to leave the country either, but I do, so here I am at the airport waiting to board my flight for Udon Thani. Yes I know I said I’m going to Vientiane but it is half the price to get a flight to Udon Thani and cross the ‘ Friendship Bridge’ into Laos from Thailand by bus.

Ah visa runs……

I’ve been to Vientiane before, last year when small one needed her Education Visa. And as much as I was looking forward to it I really didn’t have a good time.

When you first do a visa run there is always an element of confusion and chaos as you are not really sure of the procedures or which lines you need to stand in to get the right forms and such, add to that a very tired and confused 8 year old and it’s a joy I can tell you.

There are a few oddities at the Laos border crossing that its worth being aware of before you go.

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1- while you can pay the visa fee in thai baht the preferred currency, and cheapest option by far, is US dollars. 35 of them to be precise. Unless it’s a weekend when you will be asked to pay an extra dollar for ‘overtime’. ( T he irony of the preferred currency being the US dollar in Laos is not lost on me and if you have even the smallest grasp of Laos/ US history it should not be lost on you either ).

2- the Laos visa on arrival form is available to download online. Don’t bother. The actual form given to you is a very particular and specific size and any other sizes are not accepted. It really doesn’t take long to fill in the correct one.

3- it is advisable to ensure that the bills that you use to pay the visa fee are spotlessly clean and un wrinkled. This may sound silly but, I can assure you after the near fiasco we had last time, border officials will refuse to accept any bills that have even the tiniest smudge or wrinkle. I have been told that ‘some’ will accept blemished bills, but it’s really not worth the risk of either being refused entry or being stuck with a blemished $100 bill that can only be exchanged in one particular branch of one particular bank in the whole of Vientiane.

4- Be warned that once you are across the bridge you will be at the mercy of the local taxi drivers. You will, unless you happen to be with a local, get overcharged. It will cost you a minimum of $15 to get to Vientiane city.
However; Before you leave Thailand as you wait to get your passport stamped you may be offered a taxi into the city for around $10. It could be a wise move to take this offer as the price rises once you are across. If you are very fortunate the driver will accompany you through the crossing process and magically produce all the forms you need so you can fill them in on the way over the bridge ( there is a mandatory 20 baht bus fare for the bus that actually takes you across the actual friendship bridge ) . This only applies if you get a seat. It is usual for the bus to be packed far beyond normal capacity

Once the formalities of the crossing and taxi negotiation have been completed it is a short ride to the city itself. A city which is peculiarly similar to most other northern thai cities, yet in many ways starkly different.

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At first glance Vientiane seems like a vibrant multicultural city, but most of this is an illusion due to the huge numbers of ‘visa-runners’ who are simply passing through.

As little as 5 years ago it was still considered to be somewhat quirky to visit this cheap and cheerful corner of communist south east Asia, but the taxi drivers and street vendors soon got wise to the sheer volume of tourists passing through on visa runs for various other SEA countries and prices have been driven up to such a high that it is comparable cost wise more with western nations than eastern. There is also an unusually high level of aggressive street begging with many reports of people being followed around the city for hours at a time by groups of ragged looking children.

It was not children that spooked small person on our last visit, but a clearly unfortunate man who saw us having lunch in a side street cafe and decided to help himself to small ones bottle of pop from the table. Despite being chased out of the cafe by the owner he waited for us to finish and followed us down the road wailing and begging for money.
Now I’m not heartless and clearly he had suffered much in his life, but when he started tugging on my bag from behind it was more than time to flag down an overpriced taxi and get out of Dodge.
Of course i cannot blame people for trying to exploit the ‘rich white tourist’, but it has gone so far now that many people, myself included, will only come back to this city because they have to rather than because they want to.

Which is a great shame as I’m sure the city has many charms and wonderful sights to see, but to be honest after my last trip here I’m really not that inclined to seek them out.

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It’s now around 5 hours since I started this blog post and I am ensconced in the comfort of my hotel room with a take away dish of delicious smelling mystery food and a couple of cans of beer Lao. The rain is thundering down outside and ensconced I shall stay till the early morning sees me take my place in the first of many lines at the Thai Consulate. Once that is done and dusted I will try to walk around the city with fresh eyes and see the beauty that is here rather than relive the disappointment of the last trip.

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Wish me luck.

Jer Gan Mai

A Small Act of Kindness

I am interrupting my European travelogue for something VERY special. ( it will continue after this post )

Now those of you who follow my blog will understand my reasons for the interruption. If you are new to this page I would humbly suggest reading a post from April of this year before continuing to help better understand just how important this is to me.

Today something quite wonderful happened that reaffirmed my belief that I live in the best city, with the kindest people, in the world.

It was not long after I’d dropped small person off at the school bus this morning and I was back at home pottering around in the kitchen when my phone rang. When I saw it was small person calling my Immediate reaction was to check and see if the Matilda was in her box. ( Our adventurous hedgehog had a recently stowed away in small persons school bag and had an excursion ). Thankfully she was in and the cage lid was closed.
But what could possibly be wrong? She must have only just arrived. Was she sick?

Of course these thoughts were fleeting as I answered the call to an extremely excited 9year old.

“Mum, mum, mum, you will NEVER guess what’s happened!”
“So tell me then…”
“Well I just got to school and one of the secretaries told me that she had something for me and I should wait outside…”
“So what was it?”
“Well she went inside ,then she came back outside and guess what she had?”
“I don’t know…. Tell me, please?”
“She had the bag”
“Which bag?”
“Your bag!”
“My bag?”
“Yes, your bag, THE bag!”
“WHAT?”
“The bag that you left in the songtheaw, your bag, it’s here!”
“But that’s impossible, how?”
“My student ID was in the front pocket of the bag. ( On a side note I was wondering where that had gone, I just assumed it was somewhere in the mess of drawers in her bedroom). The driver must have found it in the pocket and brought it back to the school so they could give it back to me.”
“But that’s amazing, that’s so brilliant and kind. Did the driver leave his name so we could say thank you?”
“I don’t think so, they didn’t say so. He just dropped it off when he was going past.”

I said my goodbyes to small person with the firm promise that she would remember to bring my bag home with her. Of course she’s as absent minded as her mother and left the bag in her classroom when she came home, but it matters not. My smelly frayed old bag has been returned and I could not be happier or more amazed.

The driver could have no idea that an empty bag could have been so missed or mean so much. It was worth very little in monetary terms, probably less than the cost of the fuel he used to get it back to the school, but in terms of memory and feelings it is beyond price. But with no thought of reward, I’m not even able to say thank you, he brought my bag back to me and he will never know how much his seemingly small act of kindness means.

When you do something nice, when you perform one small selfless gesture, when you give something of yourself with no expectation of thanks or reward you often have no idea of the consequences of your actions. Even what you consider to be the smallest most insignificant thing could bring so much happiness to a stranger or a friend. So as a way of saying thanks to this lovely, lovely songtheaw driver I’d like to ask you all a favour.
It’s not a big thing, it won’t take much for you do, but please I’d be honoured if you would.
Just do something nice for no reason. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, it can be as simple as giving up your seat on a crowded train, holding open a door, even a kind word can sometimes be the most precious gift.
So after you’ve read this, be it an hour a day or a week, just do something nice for a friend or a stranger. You have no idea how much joy you might bring.

Jer Gan Mài.

Part the 3rd – Eastbourne onwards

*Apologies for the lack of pictures to accompany this post. There will be some added when we get to a more convenient location…. ( currently sitting in an airport in an unpronounceable Moscow – the next few posts will let you know how we ended up here )

Having arrived, been fed and watered and given beds we proceeded to crash out in spectacular fashion. On the back of a 32 hour long day, it felt good to finally sleep.

We actually arrived in the UK with very little in he way of plans. One day in London was on the cards, but other than that, nothing. And do you know what? It felt wonderful.

Usually we try and see as many people as we can and spend our days traveling up and down and across the country fretting on timetables and connections, but not this time. As nice as it would have been to see friends and more distant family, we only had a few days this time and I wanted to spend time with my mum and dad, feeding the ducks and going out for coffee. They are always so good to us when we travel, providing lifts to and from various train stations and even snacks for our journeys, and they never mind when we use them as ‘base camp’ for our adventures, but this time the adventures were to be with them, it’s been too long since I’ve just hung out with my folks doing not too much of anything, and that is one of my favourite things to do.
Fortuitously one of my siblings ( middle sister M) lives up the road from parents so I was able to see her too and Small person got to spend some quality time with her not very small anymore cousins. Previous commitments and my ludicrously short notice travel plans meant that it wasn’t possible to catch up with the other 2 ( older sister A, and big brother to us all R), but hopefully next time, although I think the space time continuum may actually implode if we all ever manage to be in the same place at once, such is the rarity of the occurrence.

However the fates had already given me a couple of wins for this trip so I can’t complain too much.

The first win was that I was able to meet up with my beautiful step-daughter for an afternoon in London as she was in the area visiting with her boyfriend at the time we were due in the south east. It’s been an age since we have been able to spend any time with AJ and for that I am truly sorry, but whenever we do get to meet up I am always so happy to see her blossoming and growing into a quite remarkable young woman. And this time was no exception. Having turned 18 since we last met she really is a young woman now, and it gladdens my heart when I see just how balanced and determined she is. She is doing spectacularly well at college and she has a very lovely boyfriend too, who is rather shy, but also very charming. I can tell you now that small person had made up her mind some time ago that she wasn’t going to like AJ’s BF. Not one little bit. No reason other than he was going out with her sister. But she really, really didn’t want to meet him. Happy to say that at the mere mention of their shared appreciation of the game ‘minecraft’ and all animosity was brushed aside and by the end of the day small person was telling anyone who would listen that he was ‘really actually quite a bit nicer than she was expecting’. High praise indeed.
I’ve probably already embarrassed the pair of them beyond reason but I’d just like to say that even though we don’t get to see her very often, that doesn’t mean we aren’t hugely proud of her and everything she has and will become. Apart from her woeful knowledge of geography. There is nothing to be proud of there. 😉

Aaaaaaanyway…….. I dragged them on a wander around London bridge/city/south bank where, almost inevitably, we ended up having a stroll around the Tate modern ( small person has a Picasso fixation- blame 5 years at school in France ). It was, as it ever is a lovely walk around the extraordinary space, taking in the familiar sights along with the new exhibits. One such instillation is .……… which is brilliant in its simplicity, and actually rather terrifying. It is a ‘black box’ with a rather sinister soundscape and some quite frankly, downright creepy projection. It’s quite an experience if you get the chance to go and have a look. It certainly caused a reaction in our little group, and if art is not about creating a reaction then what is it?
I will however take a moment to apologise to the lady who came in a minute or two after Me and who clearly didn’t realise that there was anyone else in there until I moved towards the door and her. She was slightly more emotionally scarred than most that day.

My second win of the day was a serendipitous, ( there really is no other word that fits our friendship better), meeting with my Lady Pilot Friend. ( LPF). Now my LPF friend just happens to have grown up round the corner from me when I lived in the West Midlands many years ago. She now lives in the burbs of Chicago where she drives a plane for a domestic airline. Now despite the fact that we lived very near to each other and hung out in the same pubs and clubs in the early 90’s, and have several overlapping interests, we didn’t meet and discover this until 2010, in a tiny hillside hotel hotel near Karon beach in Phuket Thailand. We had far too many things in common not to become friends and every once in a while, with absolutely no planning on either part we happen to rock up in the same country at the same time and this was one of those joyful occasions. Between us we had clocked up around 9,500 miles to be able to meet up for a pint in London that particular Tuesday evening. Serendipity I tell you 🙂

We didn’t have quite such a win on Wednesday, as it turned out Hubby had been called to London for a meeting at short notice and if we had known about it before we could have perhaps organised our schedules a bit better and all met up for dinner together rather than seeing AJ in ‘shifts’ but we did both get to spend some time with her, so maybe you can win em all 🙂

Middle sister M organised the parents on babysitting duty and took me out to the local pub that night, it’s been a while since I’ve been to a UK local and it didn’t disappoint. There was a fair amount of what could be described as ‘local colour’ and the beer garden was more ‘field with chairs’ than ‘garden’and if we had known it was quiz night beforehand we’d have put together a team. We’d have nailed it sis, even just the two of us. We had a really good fun evening catching up and chatting and we may have gotten a little bit tipsy, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome by a visit to the chippie on the walk back home.

When my alarm went off at 4.15am the next morning the getting a bit tipsy thing immediately reared its ugly head and began pounding inside my ugly head and made me, kind of, wish I’d bailed on that last glass on wine. But I didn’t and I had yet another train to catch. But that’s for another day.

Jer Gan Mài .

Part the Second; Bangkok to Eastbourne.

My body says 10 to four in the morning, my clock says 21.50… And it’s still not dark. I’d forgotten about that.

Yes we have arrived in Europe. Our long long journey is almost at an end (for a few days anyway) as I sit on the train bound for Eastbourne and my parents. Small one is crashed out under a liberated Air India blanket. She has once again been a traveling superstar and has conducted herself with much more composure and courtesy than most of the other travelers we encountered today.

We began with a four hour ‘hop’ from Bangkok to New Delhi. Rather uneventful, with a not too shabby breakfast of omelette, sausages, fruit and plenty of coffee ( not quite sure what the strawberry jam was meant to accompany though… ).

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A hearty meal is exactly what you need when you are transiting through any Indian airport as the security is something of an ordeal, even when you know what’s coming….

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Bear in mind that you have already gone through airport security at your departure point and an additional pat down and hand luggage search at the gate. So you have had 2 full security checks by the time you get to New Delhi. When you exit the plane you are shepherded towards a passport check area where you must show your passport, boarding card AND the stub you have left over from the boarding card you have just used on your previous flight. So don’t leave it in the seat pocket or throw it away. They get quite cross if you don’t have it.
After that you are given leave to pass through this desk you will be given a new luggage tag for each item which MUST be filled out and attached to every single item (including a child’s teddy bear) and then you are taken to a security screening point. Yes another one.
It is utter chaos. There is a semblance of a line, but it’s more of a free for all to get to the front. Now the next bit is REALLY important. At the edge of the scrum if you are a gentleman, go to the left lane and if you are a lady, go right. They don’t tell you to do this unless you happen to go the wrong way. They get quite cross if you go the wrong way.
Once in your correct gender specific lane you must put all hand luggage on the conveyer belt and walk through the scanner gate. Once through DO NOT try and pick up your bags. They get quite cross if you try and pick up your bags.
You must then have a personal ‘wand’ scan. Now if you are a lady you have to step into a closed curtained booth to have this done ( by a lady officer of course). You must show the officer your boarding card and stand with your arms out ready to be ‘swept’. Do not attempt to smile or make conversation ( definitely don’t be tempted to try out any wizard of Oz themed ‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’ jokes) . They get quite cross if you do that.
After you are deemed fit to pass through you may then identify your bags and wait until the labels have been date stamped by yet another officer before you are allowed to reclaim them. If however there is something in your bag that is deemed unacceptable (despite being passed through security twice already) you must empty your bag completely and remove the offending article.
Now after a child’s pencil sharpener had caused us to almost miss a connecting flight through Mumbai a few years ago I had been super careful with packing. As this trip was a hand luggage only deal I had to be absolutely aware of what may or may not be permissible. I even went as far as to email head office and was assured that my needlework scissors would be acceptable as the blades were under 1 inch.
Sadly head office didn’t pass on that particular memo and regardless of my pleas and assurances that head office had okayed my scissors they are now languishing in the contraband bin. Don’t try and tell the security staff about head office. They get quite cross if you talk about head office.
Case re packed and stamped luggage in hand you are then free to pass through to the main body of the airport. Where you can walk into a stationary shop and buy a pair of scissors. Go figure.

Now small one was getting a little peckish by the time security rigmarole had ended as we still had another hour till our connecting flight was due to be called so we headed up to the food court for a burger. Having been assured by my bank a week previously that it would be ‘absolutely fine’ to use my card anywhere, it turns out that it was somewhat less than ‘absolutely fine’ to use it in New Delhi airport. Trying to scale back the order to fit the 300 baht I had left in my purse ( thankfully thai currency is acceptable here) left me without coffee or bun, but as long as small one could eat that would be fine. It was then that a small act of human kindness made it all okay again when the manger (whose attention had been caught by a slightly deranged foreigner calculating the price of chicken nuggets versus cheeseburger), just pushed the tray of food we had already ordered towards us he’d take care of the shortfall. Two minutes later when he arrived at our table with a huge cup of coffee ‘on the house’ I actually almost cried. It is the sometimes the simplest and smallest of gestures that can turn a rapidly escalating stressful situation into calm and happy moment.

But that still left the problem of my card. Without being able to use my card I was left without Internet, as I couldn’t buy any time, so I was unable to keep people posted of my progress. Slightly more worrying was the possibility that when we reached London my card still wouldn’t work and without a phone I couldn’t call the bank, without cash I couldn’t get to Victoria station to get to my mum and dads….. Now I could have worried about this for the entire 9 hours of he next flight, but I decided that as there was absolutely nothing I could do to alter the eventual outcome it was a bad idea to spend the rest of our journey fretting about it, and as we had already been the recipients of one strangers kindness I felt certain that should the worst case scenario transpire that we would find a Good Samaritan. If you have faith in human nature it will be rewarded ( not every time I know, but I am a great believer that people are inherently good and kind, however deeply it may be buried in some).

All to soon it was time to go to the gate for yet another hand luggage check and full body scan, then through to the corridor where the final severe looking soldier stood and checked that everything you were carrying has its own label. Whatever you do when you are transiting through India don’t be tempted to go shopping, or if you do make sure you can fit whatever you have bought into your existing pre checked luggage, as an extra carrier bag without its own label can be enough to get you held back off the flight if the mood takes them. And don’t argue with them that ‘it’s just a carrier bag with sweets/booze/whatever in’, because they really don’t like it when you do that.

We finally made it to the door of the plane and small one pulled out an ace out of her sleeve and guaranteed that we would be very well looked after by ‘wai’ing ( the Thai hands together greeting ), bowing her head and apologizing to the cabin crew that she didn’t know how to say hello in Indian. GOOD WORK SMALL ONE! She immediatly had her bag taken from her and we escorted to our seats and had our luggage stowed for us as we took our seats, and were told if there was anything we required during the flight just to let them know. I’ve trained her well over the years of traveling.

The flight passed as most of them do, in a slow progression of snacks, drinks, films, fidgeting and reluctant small talk with the Indian gentleman sitting next to me who decided at one point that his life story was the most enthralling tale and must be shared at once. It really wasn’t. But he was a pleasant enough chap so I sat and let it wash over me as I drifted in an out of a light snooze. He didn’t seem to mind.

When the cabin crew came around proffering yet another round of drinks, he paused briefly in his chatter to berate the poor lady as his previous Bloody Mary was not mixed well enough. He really was extremely rude to her and my face must have been a picture when she caught my eye as she gave me one of those ‘ don’t worry it happens all the time looks ‘. I made certain that when I was given my little plastic bottle of wine I thanked her profusely and in a very British way signaled my disapproval of his behaviour by firmly plugging in my headphones and turning away from him. Not an easy task in economy class.

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On a side note here I would just like to mention here the utter pointlessness of the many and varied security checks to ensure that no one brought anything in anyway vaguely capable of doing grievous injury on to the aircraft, when they give you a full set of metal cutlery with your in flight meal. You took away my 1inch scissors and then you gave me a metal knife. A knife!!

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After food I began the futile search for a comfortable position to nod off in, twisting and turning into ever more contorted and painful poses, a task made all the more complex when you have a 9yo next to you trying to do the same. When the cabin crew saw our efforts they did what they could to assist with many extra blankets and even a comfy pillow was brought out for small person, who finally collapsed in a heap on my knees putting a firm full stop to my own attempts. Oh well.

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A couple of instantly forgettable movies helped to pass the time until the next meal. When it became clear that small person was not to be roused the staff bagged up her food and threw in a few extra chocolate brownies and some juice boxes for her to enjoy when she regained consciousness.

It seemed that an eternity had passed before the sheer joy of the ‘seat belt sign’ blinking into life told us that London was at last almost below us. Small person was maneuvered into an upright position and we began our final descent.
There is something quite magical about flying into London on a clear calm summers evening. All cities have their unique views from the air, but the sheer number of landmarks that slowly reveal themselves the lower you go is breathtaking. From the shape of the Thames snaking its way across the terrain, being able to pinpoint districts long before they can be seen simply by feasting your eyes on its languid curves and hairpin peninsulas, to the iconic buildings that rise up to meet you one by one as the ground grows ever closer. On a clear calm day it really is my favourite approach.

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Upon landing there was the customary rush to be first to wait behind the swishy curtain for 10 minutes before the doors were opened and as usual we just kept our seats and waited till the plane was almost empty before making our move. As we were sitting waiting for the crowd to disperse the lovely lady from the crew came and got our bags down for us ( 🙂 ) as I was trying to unwrap small person from the blanket. “But its so comfy mum, they are the best plane blankets ever !’. She had a point, they were very nice. When we were finally ready to disembark small one was presented with her very own still wrapped air India blanket. Which made me feel a little guilty about the one I’d stuffed in her case in order for her to stop whining and get off the plane…..

A quick breeze through the airport ( I love traveling with hand luggage only ) via a cashpoint which accepted my bank card, yeah!, down to the depths of the underground where to my surprise I found there was still a cash balance on my hastily packed Oyster card ( London transport prepayment card) and 1 minute later we were on our way to central London. Now I’ll admit that I have a hefty advantage flying into Heathrow as I know my way round and I’m familiar (although less sure than I used to be) with the tube system and routes. If you are unfamiliar with it here are a few tips.

Plan your route from Heathrow in advance. It’s quite a way from central London and there are no free shuttles waiting to whisk you to the capital.
There are however many options -coaches, taxis and express trains will all get you there at varying degrees of expense, If you have vast amounts of luggage and are traveling at busy times it might be easier/less stressful to book a coach into London as there is not a huge amount of space for luggage at rush hour on public transport.

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By far the cheapest and easiest way is by the underground.
Maps and journey planners are available online but its a good idea to have a ‘pocket tube map’ with you just in case. Familiarise yourself with the route you intend to take and any changes you need to make before you travel.

If at all possible have an Oyster card with you. This is a prepayment card that can used for Tubes, busses and some river bus services within London. It will save you a fortune as ‘Oyster fares’ are significantly cheaper than ‘cash fares’. You can buy and top up Oyster cards at most underground stations. And if you are traveling with kids then all under 10’s go free on tubes and busses. Which is nice.

Anyway…… It was a very smooth journey to Victoria station where we picked up our pre booked train tickets and had just enough time for a coffee and buns. And to pick up 5 minutes free internet and let everyone we had arrived and were on schedule. So here we are on the 21.17 to Eastbourne speeding towards my parents, small person fast asleep under her Air India blanket, large person having a tiny freak out because it’s still not dark, watching the familiar countryside that used to be home whoosh past in a blur of ever darkening greens shot with red from rays of the setting sun and happy in the knowledge that our travels are almost at an end. Well for a few days at least.

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Jer Gan Mài

Part the first ; Chiang Mai to Bangkok.

I’ve honestly never seen BKK so quiet there were obviously still quite a few people around, but not nearly the number I’m used to seeing here. When arriving at 7.15 am I had expected it to be packed with the usual queues around the block for the check in, but we walked straight up to the desk and checked in. Not one person in front. Granted quite a lot of people had already gone through, but even so it was very quiet.

We flew up from Chiang Mai last night having waved a tearful farewell to Bertie, (who will be enjoying a few weeks of hassle free digging and chewing at Lucky Dogs ) and ensured that final instructions for Matilda were imparted to her carers, (make sure she doesn’t escape and keep her food bowl topped up). As our original flight had been re-scheduled due to lack of passengers, we found ourselves with a couple of hours extra to fill before departure so we headed to my favourite restaurant for my favourite dinner before our late check in.

All went according to schedule and we enjoyed a remarkably smooth flight, flying above the most spectacular lightning storms for most of the hour and 15 minutes in the air. The only turbulence was, of course, when supper was served.

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We touched down at BKK a rather lovely 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Sadly no one seemed to have told the people who deliver the steps that we were coming in ahead of schedule and all the people who stood up and got their bags ready in the aisle as the plane was about to park were beginning to regret their haste as they were left standing like lemons for almost half an hour waiting for the doors to open. Now while I’m all for getting off the plane* as quickly as possible I see no point whatsoever in rushing to stand and stare at the swishy curtain when you know it will be at least 5 minutes, because it always is, before the door is open, and that’s when the steps are there waiting for you.

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(*I point blank refuse to use the work ‘deplane’ it’s just a made up word and quite frankly it sounds ugly. Whatever is the matter with using ‘disembark’ or just ‘get off’?)

Anyway after a nice comfy sit down for half an hour we disembarked* and boarded the busses that would deliver us to the terminal. Then we got stuck in a traffic jam. One of the baggage trucks had broken down and our bus had to wait behind it until it was towed away. In fairness it didn’t take long and as I am a packing genius and small person and I are traveling with hand luggage only ( 2 people , 3 weeks , with a ‘coming home rucksack’ inside AND gifts for my parents- go me!) we breezed through baggage collection and went to join the queue for the taxis reflecting on the fact that it took less time for us to leave home, eat dinner in town then get to the airport and check in than it did from us touching down in Bangkok to reaching the taxi queue. Except there wasn’t a queue. Not one single person waiting for a taxi. That taxi system at BKK is usually very efficient and swift, but still there are still normally hundreds.

One swift taxi ride later we arrived at our lodgings for the evening the very lovely night staff checked us in, booked our (complementary) transport back to the airport in the morning and took our bags up the room and 10 minutes after we pitched up at the taxi queue we were getting into our pyjamas and getting ready for a nights rest.

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The hotel definitely deserves a mention here ( I will also be reviewing on trip advisor in due course). I booked us in at ‘The BS Residence’ primarily as it was advertised as being ‘less than 5 minutes from the airport’. It is less than 5 minutes from the airport. As it was a budget airport hotel I wasn’t expecting a huge amount from it, but it was only one night ( little more than a few hours to be honest) so I figured as so long as it had beds it would be fine for us. I was pleasantly surprised by the light and airy reception with full compliment of comfy sofas, small cafe ( although rocking up at 23.15 it was of course closed!) and a bank of computers. The staff were courteous, jolly, very helpful and spoke at least 3 languages ( the morning staff had an impressive 6 between them). Our bags were taken up to our room, and what a great room it was. Very large and extremely clean, a lovely shower room stocked with multiple toiletries. The room was well appointed with TV and DVD player, aircon, safe, dressing gowns and slippers in the wardrobe, a fridge and a well stocked mini bar, super comfortable beds with lovely bedding and something which made me very happy indeed and has become a bit of a rarity in most European hotels; coffee and tea making facilities. When I discovered the little balcony overlooking the pool I almost wished we were staying longer. And all this for the princely sum of £12 ( including taxes and booking fee). This little gem of a hotel outstrips MANY we have stayed in over the years for a fraction of the price.

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I thouroughly recommend this hotel if you need a stopover between flights to and from BKK. I’d even say that if you come for a holiday in Bangkok and arrive late afternoon or evening it would be worth stopping here for your first night and traveling into the city the next day after a good nights sleep.

Anyway….
After not quite enough sleep our alarm call told us it was time to get up and head off. While waiting for the airport van I was talking to the receptionist telling her that I enjoyed our stay and she told me that due to cancellations they had closed one whole block of the hotel and were still under occupied, and that rooms could now be booked for even less….. As Thailand enters her 3rd week under martial law it seems that many people are heeding their foreign embassy’s advice and going somewhere else.

And whilst today we are amongst those going elsewhere, we will, most assuredly, be back. But for now we begin our European adventure. No doubt the price of a cup of coffee in London will give me the dry heaves but I am so looking forward to spending time with my family that I will, probably, not mind that much.

The only problem with living so far away, is that its so far away.

Jer Gan Mài

Round & Round, Up & Away

OK I’ll level with you. I haven’t managed to finish a single post for weeks.
Except for the one concerning the coup in Thailand, and that was deeply unsatisfactory for many reasons.

I have pages and pages of half finished notes that start well but seem to dribble off to nowhere. And I don’t like it when I feel like things are dribbling off to nowhere. It begins a downward spiral. first I don’t finish one, then I try to write another but because I haven’t finished the first one yet, but it nags at me. So I go back and have a look  and decide the reason I didn’t finish it is because it wasn’t very good in the first place so then I go back to my second post and by this point I will more than likely decide that it isn’t very good either so I won’t finish it. And so it goes on until I realise that so much has happened that I meant to write about that writing a new post wouldn’t really make any sense without writing a big catch up post. So I go back and look at my first unfinished post and realise it’s not very good… You can see where this is going can’t you…

But there really are things I want to write about now so here is a super quick catch up the details of which may or may not be fleshed out in the future.  

Had my hair cut really short for the first time ever; happy face.

Very emotional singing Lady at the cinema ; sad face.

The night of a thousand roaches; slightly terrified pretending to be brave face.

New neighbours playing with tambourines at 3 O’Clock in the morning; cross face.

Matilda the Hedgehog has an unexpected day at school; funny face.

So if you could just imagine that all of those are beautifully written and moving/humorous pieces which made you laugh/cry/think that would be most appreciated.

So now that we’re all caught up I can tell you that holiday time is finally here and we are sitting in a plane en route to London ( very happy face ). Well technically this plane is en route to New Delhi and a couple of hours later the next one will be going to London, but given the almost complete lack of detail in the rest in this post that seems a little over informative.  

Jer Gan Mài.