14.04.2011 Thailand Beach Holiday
Thailand looked beautiful as we hopped on the first of two ferries on our way to Klong Dao Beach on the island of Koh Lanta. Well, what I could see of it through the driving rain which only intensified the further we got on our journey. A neat 12-hour door-to-door trip; we had left our house in Yangon at 6am and arrived at Banana Gardens Hotel at 6pm exactly. This was my first trip to Thailand and I was so excited to be in a place which it seems the entire world has visited. It would probably have looked super exotic had I not already experienced Myanmar’s palm-tree’d lushness but it did have lots of things that Myanmar doesn’t, like banks and ATM’s and real shops and motorbikes, scooters and amazingly decent roads plus the world’s cheapest mobile connection. We picked up a couple of Thai sim cards at the airport for a couple of quid.
By now you know that our stay was blighted with bad weather and in fact we were there during southern Thailand’s worst floods in I don’t know how many years. It rained and rained and rained, every single day. In the beginning it was OK because it was either mornings or afternoons and everything was new and exciting and Alfie didn’t care if he got wet swimming in the sea or wet playing on the beach. Plus our main reason for coming was to hang out with Uncle Tommy and Auntie Anna, Cousin Sarah and her boyfriend Chabbe, Cousin David and of course Cousin William, who is at that gorgeous age of wishing he had a younger brother so was happy to practice with Alfie. And naturally Alfie watched EVERYTHING William did with utter fascination and copied where he could. But towards the end we had a full three day rainstorm and it did get a bit wearing then. Thankfully Alfie never tired of the CBeebies DVD we had brought, though mummy and daddy did…
Banana Gardens was lovely and Annie our landlady looked after us very well, plying us with snacks at every opportunity, especially Alfie of course who had eggs specially bought for his breakfast and was inundated with donuts ona daily basis. Our room was just steps away from a restaurant, a bar and a massage salon, not to mention the beach itself which was naturally gorgeous, as I had been led to expect. It was such a treat to wander up and down and have your pick of restaurants and bars to try out, plus supermarkets and plenty of tourist tat. We did also go into Saladan the main town on a couple of occasions, to eat at the the waterfront restaurants where you could choose your own lobster before they cooked it for you.
The bar next to us was The Indian, widely recommended as THE place to go and though small it was perfect and friendly, with Pas the owner offering us the use of his tuktuk within 5 minutes of meeting him. We spent most nights there as the baby monitor allowed us to stroll over after putting Alfie in his cot. And the tuktuk was magic! A sort of caged side car on a scooter it seated up to, well loads of people and we tootled around in it a fair bit, Alfie sitting either with me in the sidecar or helping Daddy to steer (VERY Thai that). Lounging there on our first night, cocktails in hand, we watched the lightning storm over the seas and felt very lucky and happy indeed. On the second night we were treated to a spectacular display of fire poi by the local Swedish school children (yes, there are 2 Swedish schools on Koh Lanta apparently). It was brilliant to watch groups of five or so 10 year olds do these amazing tricks and not a hair out of place! And of course fire poi look so stunning on a beach. I’m not sure it would have worked so well in Walthamstow town centre, for example.
I indulged in almost daily massages, with varying degrees of comfort and relaxation, and Pete went diving with an old dive buddy for the first few days. There was, for us, a palpable sense of freedom which I hadn’t expected. Not that I feel repressed in any way living as I do quite the privileged life in Myanmar, but I hadn’t counted on feeling quite so free and ‘normal’ being away from Yangon. Just the thought of being able to buy something without really thinking about it (will this appear in the shops again, do I need to buy the entire stock today?) and not having to constantly count money and plan your needs ahead in that way (you can just go to the cashpoint, wow!) was lovely. Having normal internet access and mobile phones and satellite TV felt quite alien. I was SO excited to be able to text again I fired off about 20 texts to friends in the UK but I’m not sure they understood my enthusiasm! Just having information at your fingertips was a relief. For example, with the bad weather we were able to simply check the news reports online and on TV and ask the staff how best to make sure we got our flights. Can’t imagine that happening in Myanmar for one minute.
It made me a bit cross to be honest. What with all the visa hassles prior to coming and feeling MORE homesick than ever having spent time with my brilliant brother and his family I was very down on Myanmar and it’s petty non-existent-but-they-must-be-followed rules and silliness and didn’t want to come home at all. In some ways the rain did us a favour because it meant that despite all that after 10 days I was quite looking forward to seeing our house again and at least being dry for a bit. We had settled into beach life after a fashion and accepted that everything becomes ingrained with sand and that nothing would dry but just remain damp forever and that really you only ever wear a bikini and T-shirt so why did we bring all that stuff with us? But the endless mud took its toll.
Alfie of course had a ball. Even showers were exciting (and mandatory to wash mud if not sand off prior to going in the room) and he was thrilled with TommyAnna as he called them, often chanting TommyAnna in the mornings as if to say ‘when are we seeing them?’ (They stayed in a much posher hotel about 2kms up the beach, kids clubs being essential for a nearly-5 year old). He woke one morning saying ‘hej hej!’ and sounding VERY Swedish. Plus he learnt to play ‘tittut’ (peekaboo) with a lady in the restaurant. I’m not sure I mentioned but the resort was full of Swedes and is often referred to as Koh Stockholm. They even had Swedish menus and food in some places.
Pete and I did the classic tourist thing of eating a mainly European menu; Thai food being very similar to Myanmar food and easily available here in any case. Nope, steaks and pizza for me please! And the inexorable pleasure of being able to order a decent bottle of wine for a reasonable price to go with dinner. One rainy day we even set off in the tuktuk to the next beach and went to the British Bar for a full English breakfast. It was divine and were it not for the fact that we were sitting in T-shirts and sarongs we could have been back in rainy old Blighty.
All in all it was a lovely break and certainly nice to get back to ‘normality’ for a while. Alfie LOVED it all, particularly having more family to fall asleep on (and thanks for the elephant ride Uncle Tommy!) and he passed 2 significant milestones while we were there. The first being that he put himself to sleep. He was so totally exhausted by the endless playing and swimming that he insisted on being put in his cot and being left alone to sleep, sometimes even twice a day! ‘Want more cuddles with mummy or a lie in your cot?’ ‘Cot’ came the tired reply. Now he will even ask for ‘nanights’ when it all gets a bit much for him, sweet! Secondly he mastered the 2-word sentence (which already seems a distant memory now that he strings 3 and even 4 words together, not all comprehensively of course). The most hilarious example was ‘cow shower’ when he got it into his head, following a rinse off with Daddy, that the plastic ride-on cow he had found on the beach needed a wash. He heaved and pushed and pulled and sweated to get that cow up to the nearest tap and give it a ‘cow shower’. He’s determined I’ll say that!