Phuket, Thailand - August 12-21
We left Paris, having loved the country. It's great to see small shops surviving, like bakeries and butchers, not being swamped by big supermarkets. Napoleon, scathingly called Britain a "nation of shopkeepers" but it's funny how the roles have been reversed with NZ, especially dominated by supermarket chains.
We chose to get a train from Paris to Frankfurt as the time was similar and it's great to travel on these high speed trains. They certainly go fast as we clocked a touch over 200 kmh. When we got to Frankfurt rail station all we had to do was to get a couple of tickets and get on the train to the airport. Sounds simple enough? But we can turn the simple into the difficult so easily as we couldn't get the right change for the machines and they don't sell them from an office - machine only. For a major city, we were surprised how few Germans spoke English. Mind you, this has been the case all along, with far less English speakers all over Europe than we expected. Anyway, we eventually got the correct money and bought our tickets. Although we just missed a train to the airport, the conductor pointed to another train leaving 20 minutes later. That was ok as we had plenty of time to spare. We left the rail station and headed towards the airport and a few minutes later saw a plane taking off, always a good sign. But hang on, the next plane seemed to have its landing gear down. I'm no pilot but I know enough about planes to tell me they were landing, not taking off and we were heading in the opposite direction from the airport. A very worrying moment, indeed. A female ticket collector came along and just ignored us with our tickets so I asked her was this train going to the airport and she said Munich airport. Arghh!! Now in a complete panic. She got out a hand-held computer thing and poked it a few times and she told us we could get off the train at the next stop about 20 minutes away and go to a certain platform and a train would take us to the airport, arriving comfortably within our check-in time. Although the train was 15 minutes late we got to the airport and checked in ok. The Lufthansa flight was bland but efficient. A long haul with no personal movie screens is unusual these days but I got more sleep than I usually do, with little to distract me
The arrival at Bangkok was on time and we transferred smoothly with a hotel bus waiting for us at Phuket which we shared with a couple of Aussie women. They'd been in Bangkok for a few days and hadn't seen sun through the pollution - good choice to avoid Bangkok. Our hotel in Kata Beach was way flasher than we'd expected, it was very nice, indeed. We checked in and got to the room about 19.00, which made for 30 hours of travel from the flat in Paris. We were knackered but we needed a feed and got a good meal across the road. We bought a couple of cans of beer and sat on the beach. It was absolutely gorgeous sitting in the tropical warmth listening to the waves. Although we had a good night's sleep we were still tired and jet-lagged so we had a lunchtime sleep and got up for a massage. There are heaps of parlours to choose from and my masseur was a lady-boy. It was an awesome massage with, thankfully, no extras. All over body and feet, just what was needed. We'd skipped lunch so we had an early dinner then went for a long walk. Ros always used to criticise me for wanting to explore too much, just wanting to see what was around the next corner, but this holiday has seen her wanting to go further than I was keen for. Last night's walk was just that as we walked for miles away from the resort. We knew that we never got brought in the way we walked so there had to be another way in and eventually, we found our way back, having passed through some definitely, non-tourist areas. We feel really safe in Phuket as the Thai people are very friendly and gentle. Even the hawkers are polite and will take a polite refusal and not harass you.
The hotel is set on a beautiful beach with lovely grounds. It seems to be filled with all nationalities with Japanese, Korean and heaps of Europeans - few British, lots of Italians, French, Dutch, German and Russian. Some things never change as the prime sun lounger spots seem to be taken by the inevitable, Germans by 06.00.
Thailand is unexpected in some ways, perhaps I expected it to be similar to Bali but it's way more civilized. We hired a scooter as the traffic is very orderly and easy to ride- completely the opposite of Bali - I'd never ride a bike in Bali. Shops are looking very Western, at times but there are still heaps of old style shops and hawkers. Most vehicles on the road seem very new with only a few smoke-belching trucks.
We got stopped by a policeman for a licence check while riding the scooter and I expected some sort of shake-down. He asked for my driver's licence, which I happened to have, and he looked at it and asked from which country I was from, then let me go. I was sure he couldn't read English. I thought this was a safety issue, not a money-grab. However, there was a sting in the tail as Ros and I went out later that afternoon for a trip to a 7/11 dairy for some water and I got pulled over again and asked for my licence. The cop told me I wasn't wearing a helmet, and I wasn't, nor were 50% of other riders. He issued me a summons and confiscated my licence and said I'd have to go to the local station and pay a 300 Baht ($NZ12 ) fine. Now this was not just a safety issue but I had to cough up and was given a receipt for a souvenir. At least everything was done with a sense of humour and I now have a record in Thailand.