Elephantastic

The day began with glorious sunshine and clock watching. Every 5 minutes, or so it seemed, Moo was asking me ‘is it 1 o’clock yet mummy’?. Considering she woke at 8.00 this became a little wearing, but I could forgive her excitement, because today was ‘elephant’day. Since I’d had the idea of coming to Thailand elephant riding was number one on the agenda, and since we arrived every day the question has been ‘is it elephant day yet?’

Well today was the day and 1pm was the time our tour pick-up was due to arrive. Excitement was running high, and not just from Moo. Ever since I have been small the idea of riding on one of these magnificent beasts has enthralled me, and at last I was going to do that very thing.

We were the first on the bus and had a leisurly drive around Karon to Pick up another 2 day trippers, then it was on to Patong to pick up some more.
I have resisted going to Patong so far as it has been described to me by a few people in most unflattering terms, and as we crested the hill I can absolutely see why. The words ‘Thailand’s Torremolinos’ came into sharp focus as the bus crawled through the packed streets full of garishly coloured hotels, bars and tourists alike.

I should state for the record here that I have never actually been to Torremolinos so the only picture I have of the place is an 1980’s sit-com setting full of half built hotels, ‘Brits on the p**s’ and pushy street hawkers selling over priced donkeys in sombrero’s to seriously sunburned union jack wearing tourists on their way to look for an eatery that seves up food ‘just like home’ with none of this ‘foreign muck’. This picture may be entirely wrong and it may well be a beautiful place, but swap the sombrero clad donkeys for sarong wearing monkeys and it’s welcome to Patong.

The crowds on the narrow beach, every inch of which was covered in loungers and umbrellas made me shudder to think how packed it would be in ‘high season’. I vowed that this particular place would remain off my list, but that vow was quickly put under threat when Moo spotted a McDonalds and did a small dance of joy at the thought of her first happy meal in 2 weeks…do they lace those kids meals with some highly addictive substance that we don’t know about?… and she did not rest until she had extracted a solemn promise that we would return soon to visit the home of the happy meal. Still at least it’s next door to a Starbucks and of course thats not addicitve, no siree….

After a very long wait outside one particular hotel with the driver yammering away on his phone to what I assume was head office and pacing the hotel lobby, the latecomers finally were located in the hotel bar nursing bottles of Chang beer having ‘lost track of time’. With beers still in hand they boarded the bus and the driver set about making up for lost time and inventing overtaking lanes in inadvisable places to ensure we arrived in time. The guests on board had trouble holding on to thier bottles as we were flung round corners and used speed bumps and pot holes as miniature take off ramps, but they made a darned good attempt.

The foursome went by the names of Eadie, Mandy,Glenda and Wanda and with the upmost respect to my Aussie mates and my lack of the correct local terminology I would describe these ladies as fair dinkum sheila’s, with maybe a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock and a fondness for grog. ( http://www.koalanet.com.au/australian-slang.html ). For the rest of the journey we listened to the exploits of these 4, not particularly young, women and I had to wonder why on earth they kept drinking as it seemed to do nothing more than make them ‘chunder’ on the beach. Delightful. Drunken middle aged sheila’s aside, the journey was relatively swift to the Khao Phra national park and the start of our ‘safari’ tour.

not our boat - phew

First up was a gentle canoe trip to see some walking fish. I was excused paddling duties as I had a small person to hang on to, and we were taken out to the middle of a mangrove swamp to a small muddy island where the fish did indeed walk onto the land. Mental. After a little research back at the hotel I discovered these odd little creatures are called ‘mudskippers’ and they are fascinating. Their breating pattern is much like that of scuba diver, and in humid conditions they can survive on land for days at a time.
The Aussie contingent had skipped the canoeing in preference to the ‘dry’ land of the bus drivers bar and seemed in fine spirits when we headed off for our next stop and a ride on an ox cart.
the ox cart

The ox was big, the cart was rickety and the ground was rutted and muddy. As we were thrown around in the back Moo squealed with delight as we were catupulted off our seats with almost every step and I squealed in pain as my back got battered and bruised whilst tyring to stop Moo being catupulted off her seat with every step. The traditional tour guide greeting at the end of this ride is to ask if anyone wants to go round again, of course everybody replies in the negative, but she hadn’t counted on Moo. Thankfully there was a perfect distraction to counterpoint the dissapointment of no more ox cart torture.
The perfect diastraction

In the corner of the field was the most beautiful creature I have ever seen, an 18 month old elephant cub. We were taken over and allowed to watch him splash around and cover himself in cool clear water. I was very jealous of his cold shower as it was extremely hot, but most generously he included us and his soft as velvet trunk brushed against us as he sprayed. Magical moments.

All to soon it was off for the next part of our tour and we headed off into the depths of the park and up towards the Bang Pae waterfall. 2 of the 4 sheilas opted out of the climb when they spotted the beer stall at the bottom, but the other 2 decided to get their money’s worth from the tour and just took the beer with them. It was a long and steep trek up to the waterfall and I was, not for the first time, beginning to rue the decision to wear my leather flip flops, which were rapidly becoming slip flops, but onwards and upwards we went. When we reached the falls what little breath I had left was taken clean away. Not the most spectacular, and by no means the biggest or fastest waterfall in the world but utterly stunning none the less. We threw our useless shoes to one side and waded into the cool clear water in the pool. Utter bliss. I then decided it was time for another first. I took off my shorts, secretly thanking the Lord that although I may have made the wrong chioce of shoes this morning the choice of sensible big pants was spot on, and clambered up to the primary pool and swam straight into the waterfall. The pounding of the water on my back and the thunderous roar in my ears made me feel like the only person in the world at that very moment. It’s so hard to describe the sensations I was feeling for those brief moments, but despite the noise and the pressure of the water falling on me I felt at peace.

Thailands biggest waterfall. Bang Pae

When I returned to the secondary pool it was to find that Moo, once more the darling of the tour guide, had followed my lead and abandoned her shorts and was showing of her newly learned swimming skills to anyone who would care to watch and splashing anyone who didn’t. All too soon it was time to head back to the bus and I would have been full of regret at leaving had we not been heading for the main event.
Even the Sheilas seemed excited about this part of the tour, although Wanda looked most put out when she was told there wasn’t a bar.
our ride for the afternoon

It is now time for one of the most obvious statements I will probably make in my life, but here goes. Elephants are really big! Of course I have seen elephants before and I know they are big, but when you are standing right next to a fully grown male and you are not even as tall as a leg they just seem so much … bigger.
With our shoes tossed aside once more we mounted the seat with some trepidation and we were off. The first thing that struck me, (aside from the keen and insightful obsevation regarding their size), was how soft his skin was. I was expecting it to be rough and very hard but the sensation that my feet was sending to my brain defied those expectations as the warm velvety smoothness rubbed against my soles. We plodded along the well worn route and even though hundreds of thousands of people had gone before us it mattered not, it was wonderful special and unique.
Riding high

We headed down to the stream and the sheer grace of the beast as he negotiated what looked to me like a treacherous bank was a joy to behold and whilst the angle of descent had us gripping the sides of our chair there was barely a jolt as he quite literally took it all in his stride. We stopped a few times along the way for him to have a drink and a ‘nibble’ or two and Moo was enchanted as the enormous ears swung back and tickled her feet. After the stream we headed through the rubber tree plantation and rubbed up against the sticky latex oozing from the freshly scored bark and dripping slowly into the collection pots tacked to the bottom of the trunks.

As we came to a small clearing our ‘driver’ got off and whipped my camera from my hand and started snapping away from the ground. The invitation to come off the seat and sit on the head was rejected by Moo in an instant and taken up by me almost as quickly. With my legs clamped firmly behind his ears I sat in awe stroking his gigantic forehead and forgetting all else. Until he decided to go off for a wander that is, with his head suddenly down he performed a u-turn that would wipe the floor with a London taxi and lumbered off in search of some tastier foliage. Clinging on for dear life as those massive shoulders undulated beneath me and listening to the gales of laughter coming from my ever supportive daughter until a few seconds later (although it felt like longer), the driver regained control and with a hearty guffaw handed me back my camera. The requested price for the photogrphic service was 50baht (around a pound), but I was more than happy to hand over 100 to have what I was sure would be photographs that capture moments that I never want to forget. It also explains why the cost of the traditional ‘collect at the end of the tour photo’ was extracted before we set off. I dont care, it was worth every penny.

I clambered back onto my seat and it was time to head back to base. At this point modern technology came to the fore and I was able to text hubby form my lofty position and share the moment. It would have been much nicer if he was sitting next to me of course, but as Mick Jagger so aptly put, ‘You can’t always get what you want’, but all things considered I think we did pretty well today.

A bientot

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the boat that rocked. part 2

I didn’t intent to write so much, but this particular blog has turned into something of an epic so I have decided to post it in two parts.
This is part 2.

The 'sea angel 5'

We continued our journey around the Phi Phi archipelago and a few minutes later the boat glided smoothly into ‘monkey beach’. No prizes for guessing how this beach got its name. As we had arrived at high tide the beach itself was covered in sea so mercifully we stayed on the boat for this part of the excursion ( Its not that I don’t like beaches, I really do, but I had found out rather swiftly that getting on to the back of a very wibbly wobbly slippery boat is not one of my strong suits).

The captain skilfully manoeuvred his craft directly under some over hanging branches and as one of the crew who was perched precariously on the very front of deck retrieved a selection of fruit from his pockets the branches came alive with the movement of around 30 or 40 small creatures racing toward him. Our friendly guides had advised us early on to get to the front and I’m very grateful to them for that as the entire boat load of passengers, (excepting the Japanese family who were still cowering under their towels), rushed forward to get a ‘good spot’.

Monkeys of monkey bay
Our spot was right next to the crewman who was handing out treats so we had a grand view of the monkeys skittering overhead using their expertise to skin and eat a rambutan fruit in around a second. Judging by the number of skins floating around the boat and the girth of some of the monkeys it had already been a busy day for them. Moo was captivated and almost fell overboard with excitement at the sight of so many monkeys at close range.

A few minutes later it really was time to fall overboard as we managed to find a ‘piece of sea with not so much bumpy bumpy’ and kitted out in our snorkel sets, flippers and life jackets we descended gracefully down the steps of the boat and barely caused a ripple as we entered the sea. OK ,well maybe ‘descended gracefully’ is not a strictly accurate description of my dismount, but it’s my blog and I get to decide how it happened, I just thank the lord no-one had a camera.

Moo and I floated around together for a few minutes pointing out the stunning marine wildlife, but she got a little over excited when ‘Nemo’ swam past and managed to dislodge her snorkel tube. It freaked her out a little and she wanted to get back on the boat immediately. While I understood I have to say I was a little disappointed that she could not be cajoled into another try as I had been really looking forward to this part of the day, but I accompanied her back to the boat and helped her onto deck. As I was attempting to get back on (for the second time) Molly was busy telling her favourite guide, ‘Beyonce’, what had happened, at which point he leaned over the edge and told me they would take Moo up front and give her a drink if I wanted to stay in a bit longer.
Always compliment your tour guides on their choice of hat.

I’m absolutely positive that there are many better places to snorkel in these parts and many more beautiful underwater landscapes to explore without the company of 5 or 6 other tour boats anchored in the vicinity each with their own payload of tourists out for a swim, but for a first-timer like me it was a magical and surreal adventure. There may well have been a dozen or so other swimmers in close proximity but as soon as my head was beneath the surface I could have been alone in the ocean.

My extensive knowledge of marine biology is mainly gleaned from Pixar movies so you will have to forgive my ignorance and I am sorry to say that I cannot put a name to vast majority of the fish I encountered, but suffice to say I felt like I had submerged myself on the set of a live action version of ‘Finding Nemo’. I had no idea how I would feel about snorkelling as it is not something I had ever done before, but I can say with certainty it is on my ‘to-do again’ list.

Back on deck Moo was having a fine time holding court up front and wowing the crowds by translating the requests of a French speaking couple to the guides. She comes in very handy at times.
As soon as all the swimmers were safely on board we sped of again for another round of sightseeing.

The 'red rock' exposed by the 2004 tsunami

I received extra brownie points by listening attentively to the commentary and nodding in the right places while most people ignored the guide and chatted amongst themselves. He ended up standing next to us giving us a one-to one commentary as no-one else seemed to care. Whilst some of the information was slightly problematic to decipher, what I did catch was both fascinating and deeply moving.

When you are bobbing along snapping holiday pictures it is all too easy to forget the devastation that occurred here less than 6 years ago when the Indian Ocean tsunami struck on December 26th 2004. In the grand scheme of things Thailand was lucky compared to Indonesia but it is still estimated that over 8000 people died here. Entire communities wiped out in a matter of minutes as the giant waves covered the land and destroyed almost everything in their path.

The camp disco façade of ‘Beyonce’ was dropped for a few minutes as I saw the deep sadness in his eyes as he related a very personal account of that day and those who were lost to him whilst staring at the giant red cliffs whose faces had been torn by the sheer force of water.
‘Is not possible to forget but too hard to remember, yah.’
Any words I may have chosen, however sincerely intentioned, would have sounded shallow so instead I just took his hand as we glided onward for a while in contemplative silence.

‘But life she must go on and today is not for sadness’. The ‘tour guide’ took over once more and with his huge smile firmly back in place he shimmied across deck to comfort the still suffering Japanese family.

Thailand has recovered remarkably well and quickly, and it is hard to believe that just a few short years ago most of the buildings on the western coast were swept into the sea. The massive amount of rebuilding work is evident when you reach the Island of Phi Phi Don. Gone are the bamboo and coconut palm bungalows that were dotted along the beach replaced by grand (and expensive) hotels whose perimeter walls leave barely 2 or 3 metres width of beach. The traditional fishing boats have been mostly replaced with tour boats and as soon as you step ashore you are assaulted by the hoards of hawkers and traders selling the same items and snacks at double the price you would pay on Phuket island.

Usually the Phi Phi Don part of the tour consists of a shopping tour (being led around the specially constructed ‘tourist market’ and encouraged to spend spend spend) then to a local bar for a buffet lunch, thankfully by the time we arrived we were a little behind schedule and the sun had taken shelter behind forebodingly dark clouds and our guides decided that whoever wanted to go shopping could do so on their own and with a swift reminder of ‘You late back to boat we leave you, yah’ they were off for a sit down and bite to eat. The thought of trailing around another ‘same-same’ market left me cold so we left our shoes at the door and followed them in to lunch.

The meal that was provided was disappointing to say the least, any hint of local cuisine has been diluted by the need to cater for the mass tour crowds that descend upon the island in hourly shifts. The gloopy sickly ‘sweet and sour’ and the ‘American deep fried chicken’ were nothing like the food we have come to enjoy since we got here. We filled our plates with the least offensive looking fayre and were shown/herded to our table, which just so happened to be next to the guides. When I saw the waitress bringing them their lunch of jasmine rice and coconut milk soup I casually remarked that it looked much nicer than ours. They took pity on us and called us to their table, had a hurried conversation with the waitress and in moments our plates had been whisked away and we were presented with our very own bowls of soup and fragrant rice with steamed fish.

ALWAYS compliment your tour guides on their choice of hat.

By the time lunch was over the weather had well and truly broken and the noise of the rain on the wooden roof was almost deafening. A few of the tour group set off with grim determination toward the market desperate to purchase their souvenirs while most of the rest sat looking sullenly at the falling rain. Undaunted by the torrent Moo and I headed out to the beach and caused much amusement to the locals by running up and down to the sea playing tag, once you are wet through there’s not much point trying to keep dry.

When it came time to leave we went to retrieve our shoes from step at the front door, except the step by the front door was now covered with water. Due to the amount of rain that had just fallen the street outside was now doing a fair impersonation of a stream and our flip-flops were no where to be seen.
Oops. As we waded ankle deep in the freshly fallen rain Moo and I were in fits of giggles desperately hoping that by following the flow we would come upon our shoes. About 50 meters from the door we spotted one caught up in some grass and the hunt was on. When we had travelled around 200 meters we had found 7 shoes only 3 of which we could claim as our own and we met another couple who had been ‘shoe fishing’ and compared our catches.

flip flop fishing
I was very happy I to be reunited with my missing flip flop, I only bought them the day before. One chap was not so lucky and spent the rest of the tour carrying 1 flip flop around with him. We briefly considered setting up a stall and bartering the remaining shoes in our possession, but time was running short and the thought of being left stranded on Phi Phi Don was enough to quell our entrepreneurial spirit. The leftover shoes were placed on the harbour wall awaiting their owners.

After lunch we went to Koh Mai Pai island which is normally the ‘sunbathing stop’, but the sun was resolutely refusing to co-operate with the tour schedule. We sat in our deckchairs in the rain refusing the really pushy beach side hawkers, (no I DON’T want the souvenir photo you took of me looking like a drowned rat getting off the boat thank you very much, even if it is in a frame that has seashells stuck to it), and then headed of for a quick snorkel, but the sight of an enormous jellyfish was enough for Moo to decide that snorkelling was very firmly off the

eeewwww, big Jellyfish!
agenda. We settled for a coffee and an ice cream instead but we picked the wrong spot to stop and enjoy them as some of our fellow tourists were having a proper whine about the weather. After 10 minutes I felt the urge to point out to them that if they did book their holiday in the rainy season, it was rather churlish to complain about the rain, and it least the rain here was warm. My comments didn’t seem to go down to well and I was most grateful to be rounded up back to the boat a few minutes later.

After that it was back on the boat for a 30 minute trip back to Phuket, And what a 30 minutes it was. When the captain of the boat puts on a crash helmet you know you are in for a rough ride. The rain was coming down as a solid wall of water and the waves were crashing over the front of the boat and flooding the deck area, life jackets were handed round and it wasn’t just the Japanese who were in need of more plastic bags.

a little bit of 'bumpy bumpy'
Despite my best efforts everything I had taken with me was utterly drenched (even all the stuff I had very carefully placed in zip lock bags managed to get wet), I feared for my camera, but thankfully after a night in a warm room all seemed well. But I think it may be the death knell for my trusty mobile phone. It hasn’t been the same since.

The storm abated after about 20 minutes and the last 10 minutes of the journey passed in relatively calm seas. As soon as the worst was over the guides attended to their duties and boosted morale in their inimitable style. I’m not sure a sing-and-dance-a-long to lady GaGa was everyone’s ideal, but we had a ball. When we got off the boat Moo and I were hugged like long lost relatives and had to wait with ‘Beyonce’ while ‘Shakira’ ran to get their cameras.

The air conditioned mini van ride back to the hotel was a rather chilly affair, not only because we were wet through, but we happened to be sharing the ride with the ‘Mai Pai weather whingers’ who seemed unable to find a single good thing to say about any part of the trip, and whilst I’ll admit to sharing their opinion of the overcrowding on the islands and the persistence of the beach vendors, I wouldn’t hear a word against our guides. Even the Japanese family who had spent almost the entire day studying the inside of various plastic containers had the grace to say thank-you. Luckily they got out of the van a lot sooner than we did.

I’m not really a big fan of organised tours, and I can’t honestly say I enjoyed the ‘dry land’ bits very much, far too many people and not nearly enough time to really appreciate the surroundings, but I have to say that all in all we had an amazing day that, for many reasons, will stay in my thoughts for a very long time.

And the guides really did wear very lovely hats, yah.

A bientot.

The adventure begins

Wake up, drink coffee, open blinds, look at beautiful ocean, go to poolside bar for breakfast, drink more coffee, swim in pool. What a wonderful way to start your day, and that’s exactly what we have been doing. Marvellous.

A view with a room

We are already settling in to life at the Hotel and having a great deal of fun, and we’ve only been here a few days. It is a charming place set in the midst of a mountainside jungle with a spectacular view of the Andaman sea with a tantalising glimpse of Kata beach to whet your appetite for a day of adventurous sunbathing!

Our first night consisted of a dip in the pool, then bed, and after a wonderful nights sleep and a fabulous breakfast we took full advantage of the hotel shuttle service, (being perched on a mountainside is all well and good until you actually have to climb said mountainside, which is where the shuttle service comes into it’s own!), and headed off into town to get our bearings.

The villages of Kata and Karon are situated in the South West of Phuket and between them are home to what must number several thousand hotel rooms, several hundred cafes restaurants and bars, a slightly smaller number of retail outlets and 3 glorious beaches. Kata Noi is the smallest ( but still nearly 1 km ) and most secluded of the 3, then just around the headland is Kata beach a beautiful 2km stretch of golden sand, and if that wasn’t enough, a little further on is the long straight stretch of Karon Beach with its bizarrely squeaky sand.

Kata beach is the most commercial beach with many and varied activities from parasailing, jet ski-ing and surfing to the slightly more sedentary hair braiding services (which Moo just had to try and astoundingly sat for over an hour while 2 nimble fingered Thai ladies worked her ‘do’) and numerous massage areas where you can get a full hour oil massage for the princely sum of around 6 pounds (which I will be trying out in the very near future!).

Our little Moo having her 'do'

All of the beaches are home to numerous food stands which serve both Thai and western menus and a mouthwatering selection of tropical fruit smoothies, or you can just have a freshly picked coconut with a straw. The beaches are also home to many many vendors who will try and sell you anything and everything including sarongs, belts, necklaces, musical instruments and a vast assortment of souvenirs featuring elephants, (the national animal of Thailand), and just about anything else you can think of. If you have no wish to buy a polite no thank-you or 3 and a smile should do the trick, but be warned if you do buy anything you will become a target for the other sellers for the rest of the day so it’s best to leave any purchases you wish to make till you are just about to leave. And don’t forget to haggle.

On our second day we visited the village of Karon and found what I think will be our favourite eatery. It’s a roadside shack (as many of them are) opposite the temple school and if you hit it at the right time of day you can watch the sunset over the temple and listen to the monks evening chants as you eat some of the best food I have ever tasted.

The temple from the Nok Noi cafe
Magical stuff. We had ordered a simple meal and as we waited Moo became completely absorbed in an episode of a very strange Thai soap – opera that was on the TV. The general jist was something about an evil spirit who took control of various leading ladies causing them to fight each other for no apparent reason. This story continued during our meal and I got not one single word of conversation from Moo till it had finished, at which point she declared it to be one of the best things she had ever seen. There’s no accounting for taste.
When we finished our meal a plate of mystery fruit* was presented for us to try and Moo was given a beautiful paper flower that the waitress had been making while we were dining. Such small gestures of kindness and welcome have been found all over the place since we arrived and I cant wait to get more of a taste of the island over the coming few weeks.
Watermelon smoothie and 'mystery' fruit

*The mystery fruit has since been identified (and purchased in bulk) as the delicious langsat

A bientot.

Panicing? I’m not panicing.

OK so here’s the deal . I am a little behind (about 3 weeks) in my blogging, and there are still a few things I need to write about China But I’m finding it hard to catch up and we have moved on a little….soooo.

I have inserted a couple of titles below which I will edit in the pieces when they are done and let you know!

If I don’t start to put the new pieces in now I will end up months behind, and that would be bad.

I had it covered, really I did. All the bookings printed out, passports, tickets and a plan. The plan was a good one too. We get the 11 am ferry from Macau directly to Hong Kong airport, that way we are all checked in by the time we get there and spend a leisurely couple of hours strolling the airport boutiques and changing our currency before boarding the flight to Thailand, without the need to cart our baggage on the underground across the centre of Hong Kong at a busy lunchtime. I told you it was a good plan. Flawless.

Well almost flawless.

Apart from the fact that when we arrived at the ferry terminal it transpired that there was no 11 am sailing to the airport, but all was not lost there was an 11.30 departure and the flight didn’t leave till ten past 2. We would be checked in at 11.30 and in Hong Kong airport by 12.30. lovely. Apart from the fact that when they said that when travelling to the airport by ferry you had to be checked in 2 hours before your flight what they actually meant was that you had to be at the airport 2 hours before your flight and ‘checking in’ at the ferry terminal didn’t actually count as part of the 2 hour time scale. I was then very calmly informed that if I arrived at 12.30 I wouldn’t be accepted for ‘airport check in’ as I would technically be 20 minutes late and would be sent back to Macau on the next ferry.

OK, so the plan was starting to look a tiny bit flawed now I’ll admit.

It was now 10.40am and time for a hastily constructed plan B.
11am ferry to Hong Kong non airport ferry terminal, there by mid-day, 20 minute taxi to central station then a half hour ride on the airport express. Easily be there by 1pm with an hour and 10 minutes before the plane left. That was do-able. Boarding began at 1.40, but that would be OK. Really we would make it in time. We would.

Plan B was rapidly replaced by a panic stricken and rather desperate Plan C when at 11.15 the 11am ferry was still idling in the dock at Macau.
By 11.20 we were finally under way.
At 12.21 I dragged 2 cases and a very excited Moo in my wake and joined the mercifully short lines at Hong Kong immigration. By 12.40 we were in a taxi heading directly for the airport with the cabbie on a promise of a $50 tip if we got to check in by 10 minutes past 1.
We got to the check in desk at 1.20, but as the cabbie had loaded our bags on a trolley and run them up to the counter himself he got his tip anyway. It’s not his fault there was a torrential downpour on the way there and he had to cut his speed a little.

With boarding passes in hand we hurtled thought the airport towards the gate, which was of course the furthest away, and arrived as they were calling for our row numbers to embark.

To say it was a relief to sink into the seat would be something of an understatement.
During the flight a young lady approached us and told us that she had been through the same panic stricken routine having arrived at Macau expecting the 11am departure, and had seen us on the ferry and was very glad we had made it. She had chosen the HK airport express route as it turns out you can check in at the train station and that does ‘count’. But she had only arrived at the gate minutes before us and had run most of the way. On balance I think with 2 cases and a 5 year old in tow plan C was defiantly our best option.

I am please to report that the rest of our journey was smooth by comparison and I can once again make an airline recommendation. Thai Airways are simply marvellous. Although the flight was only 2 and a half hours we were plied with alcohol almost as soon as we sat down and a lovely meal was served. There was a slight hiccough with meal as they had run out of the one I wanted and I was asked to wait a couple of minutes while they fetched another from elsewhere. When the ‘any more bread rolls’ lady was doing the rounds I mentioned I was still waiting for my meal and less than a minute later it was presented with a glass of champagne by way of apology, then 10 minutes later the steward who had forgotten arrived with a fresh gin and tonic and after that, quite frankly, I couldn’t care less.

There was a brief and incident free change of planes at Bangkok and another quick hop, (this time I thought I had better refuse the G&T if I actually wanted to make it to the hotel in any fit state), to Phuket. Our hotel driver appeared and 40 minutes later we were sipping complimentary check in drinks at the pool-side bar. After a swift coffee in the, very nice, room there was just time to take a dip in the pool before heading off to bed.

I have only been in Thailand for a few hours but I have already been struck by the genuine kindness and gentleness of the people, and by the darkness of the night sky. Coming from the neon lit nights of Macau and Hong Kong I had forgotten how dark the night sky actually is and how brightly the stars can shine.

A bientôt.