A Travellerspoint blog


Hellos and Goodbyes

sunny 33 °C
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There’s not a lot to do on Sukorn (in Thai, Pig Island, strange given that they are all Muslim), which is exactly why people like it. At 10.00am on our first morning we were congratulating ourselves that we had performed the Sukorn morning ritual of a brisk walk from one end of the beach to the other, eaten breakfast, blown up our trusty lilos, and were bobbing along in the water aboard said lilos.

Empty beach at Koh Sukorn!

By contrast with Bangkok, it was scorching hot and by midday everyone retreats into the shade of the trees or, in our case, our umbrella because each of the beachfront cottages has its own carefully planted brolly. The shady open air restaurant, surrounded by trees and shrubs provides a welcome refuge from the heat and an informal meeting place for the guests. We are the only native English speakers at the resort, there are Swiss, Norwegian, Dutch, French and German but all speak English to communicate. It can be quite amusing listening to the Thai staff and the foreign visitors both conversing in broken English…. this way often confusion lies. Many of the guests, like us, are repeat visitors and we are all a little concerned about the future of the resort. A new resort has been built on the land adjacent and its owners have now bought Sukorn Beach Bungalows intending to combine the two. At the moment it’s pretty much the same as always, if rather more lackadaisical, undoubtedly because Dick and Dee, the previous efficient and ever present owners have gone. Two helpful Swedish ladies told us that Dick and Dee have had a splendid new house built, just down the road which we must visit.

Our beachfront cottage (lilos on veranda)

I happened to see, on the big notice board in reception, that an island hopping trip was due in the next day. ‘Will that be Thup bringing them?’ I asked, ‘Mr Thup, the boatman?’ ‘Mr Thup? No,’ said the receptionist casually, ‘He dead already.’ What? Surely not. Thup, our charismatic, larger than life, first and only boatman, consummate professional, inveterate practical joker, incorrigible flirt, ever smiling and full of energy. How could this be? Suddenly, despite all the sunshine that day, the world was a darker place.

We spent the afternoon swimming and sunbathing, Keith had a massage in the little beach side sala and by bedtime we had resolved to go and visit Mrs Mon, Thup’s widow.

On Saturday morning, I tried to ask the staff if Mon still worked in the kitchen sometimes. A phone call was made (any respectable Thai is never far from their mobile phone) and I was told that Mon would be here in 10 minutes. We felt guilty, we hadn’t intended to summon the poor woman, so we hightailed it back to our cottage to put on sensible clothes rather than swimwear. As soon as she saw us, Mon recognised us immediately and with the help of one of her friends who spoke better English, we expressed our condolences. Much hugging and many tears later, Mon decided to go home and fetch her little grandsons to see us. I walked her to the gate and as she climbed aboard her motorbike (the only form of transport on Sukorn) she patted the pillion and said, ‘Come’.

Diane with Mrs Mon outside her house

We breezed along the concrete path, so much better than the dusty track of our earlier visits, up the hill and round the corner to Baan Thup, the conglomeration of houses and shacks where, Thup and Mon, Thup’s mother, Thup’s daughter and her family plus all of Thup’s brothers and their families live in front of the family rubber plantation. Mon’s daughter was cooking fresh caught crabs in a pot over an open fire, the crab nets were spread out to dry. The two grandsons and assorted cousins were playing in the dusty garden and other relatives were stomping and rolling rubber into bathmat sized sheets.

Latex rubber mats, drying in the sun

Mon produced her photo albums. So many pictures of Thup, some we’d taken and emailed back. There was a photograph of me and Mon, outside her house, when we were both younger and thinner and another of Mat, Thom, Thup and me on our second island hopping trip. Now both Mat and Thup are dead and Thom has given up the trips to return to Libong, to his family, earning his living fishing.

We went to see Thup’s grave. Climbing up the hill, Mon leading me by the hand, behind the houses, in amongst the rubber trees we came to a small walled plot with a gate. Inside is the family graveyard, the newest being Thup’s, a simple mound of earth with a wooden marker at each end. The two little grandsons Om and Aam squatted down, brushing the sand and dust from the wooden markers, Mon sat at the side gently patting the earth and the markers, she encouraged me to do the same. We both wept, she had spent over 20 years with this man, I had spent barely ten days but he was special to us both.

Thup's young cousin proudly displays his toy kite

Mon and little Om took me back to the resort where Keith was waiting. She managed to explain that Thup had cancer of the head… a brain tumour and he just wasted away, two months from diagnosis to death. Mon and Thup worked hard to give their two daughters the best possible start, their older daughter is a doctor, but no medicine could save Thup.

The next day, we hired a motorbike for half a day from the resort… 300Baht because it was an automatic, manual is cheaper, and went to do our visiting. Dick and Dee’s new bungalow is just behind the resort, a very splendid edifice with shiny sliding gates emblazoned with a silver D and D. They are indulging themselves with fancy gardens and fish ponds but no sea view… I’d have built the house on stilts, Thai style, to get the view. Dick looks healthier and younger than we’ve ever seen him before, he told us that they are both very happy. They invited us to their ‘house opening party’ on Tuesday night, but sadly, Tuesday morning is when we leave.

Travelling around the island on the bike is cool and pleasant but it’s easy to get sunburned, I developed a technique of holding on to Keith’s hat as we whizzed along. Sukorn is a prosperous island with some pretty villages and nice houses although, since the tsunami, many of the traditional teak houses have been replaced by breezeblock and concrete bungalows.

Diane enjoying Mrs Mon's freshly cooked crabs...

We had lunch at Mon’s, she’d cooked us a handsome feast of fresh cooked crabs, little fried snappers, stir fried vegetables and rice with watermelon and jackfruit to follow. We met Thup’s mother, a sprightly lady who lives in the nicest house and Keith also visited Thup’s grave. We said our goodbyes to Mon and the family and wished Thup ‘rahdree sawat’ ‘sweet dreams’ in his peaceful woodland resting place.

Diane, Mrs Mon and two of the chidren at Thup's grave

Monday was our full last day, we pottered up and down the beach, sunbathed and swam, amused that the waters were a little more choppy than usual we joked about being swept away to Koh Laoliang on our lilos. In the afternoon, a longtail delivered us new neighbours. Joachim from Berlin and Thomas from Zürich, who moved into the next door cottage with their furry travelling companions. Li’l Monkey was very pleased and eager to make friends. After dinner we spent a pleasant evening with them, swapping traveller’s tales.

Li'l Monkey & his new friends

Whilst eating our final breakfast on Sukorn, it was explained to us that it was too windy and the sea too rough for our longtail transfer to Koh Ngai. Instead they planned to take us by longtail the much shorter trip back to Tasae, then drive us to Pak Meng where we could get a ferry to Koh Ngai. This was safer and cheaper they said….. I suspected ulterior motives as the sea looked calm enough to me but who cares, we’d get there sooner or later.

Waved-off from Koh Sukorn...

Our bags were loaded onto the longtail and Thomas, Joachim and furry Paul kindly came to wave us off. As the boat pulled away and the figures on the beach receded into the distance, it was like old times being seen off by Dick and Dee.


Posted by GinSmugglers 23:00 Archived in Thailand Tagged islands graves Comments (2)

Sunrise, Sunsets…

Less peaceful but still nice!

sunny 36 °C
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We were told that we must see the sun rise over Angkor Wat. I always prefer sunsets myself, they are generally at a much more civilized hour; and it wasn’t part of our tour, but in the end it was a case of, ‘we’re only here once…’ Our driver collected us at 5.15am and we joined the fleet of taxis, bicycles and tuk-tuks heading for the great wats. There was a frenzy of activity at the entrance, vehicles screeching to a halt in a swirl of dust and grit, disgorging more and more people. It was dark of course and the uneven stones and steps were difficult to navigate, we had unintentionally left our head torches behind in Bangkok so we carefully followed in the footsteps of those with the brightest lights. Eventually we reached the shore of the lake in front of the temple where the building and, hopefully, the sunrise can be seen reflected in the water. We jostled for position, by now the crowd lining the lake was three deep and more people were arriving by the minute. We found a little hillock on which to stand and fiercely defended our spot against Chinese with marauding tripods.

Angkor Wat at sunrise

By 6.30am we were a bit bored, nothing was happening we thought, but then the sky behind the towers began to lighten, grey at first, then pink. The outline of the building showed ever more clearly and a perfect mirror image was reflected in the lake. Finally the sun appeared, a burning disc lighting up the sky and giving the ancient bricks and stones a magical golden glow. Was it worth getting up at 4.45am? You betcha!

Crowds capturing the sunrise over Angkor Wat

Back to the hotel for breakfast, along with everyone else staying at the hotel who had also been to see the sunrise. It was like the proverbial rugby scrum….. no tables, no plates, no juice and grown men fighting over the last bacon rasher! 5* luxury in Siem Reap. The wise people stayed at Angkor Wat and ate at one of the little shanty cafes on the edge of the lake.


The next delight on our tour was to Tonle Sap, the biggest lake in South East Asia, or so we’d been promised. Some 10km south of Siem Reap we finally reached a dusty dirt road along the edge of a grubby and unpromising stretch of water. We descended a long concrete staircase leading down to the water, at the foot of which was a gaggle of wooden boats of all shapes and sizes. Taking our lives into our hands we bounced from boat to boat, eventually arriving at our designated craft. Not being au fait with boating terminology, I can only describe it as a sort of large wooden bathtub with a canopy and tubular steel chairs welded to the base. It had a very efficient motor though and soon we were whizzing along at a rate of knots. ‘Biggest lake in S.E. Asia, my a**e’, I thought, as we travelled along this muddy ditch, with its dusty banks. Hardly the picturesque blue lake surrounded by trees and flowers lingering in my imagination. I’d just about given up when we reached the end of what was a canal and emerged into the actual Tonle Sap, so wide we couldn’t see the other side. We cruised amongst the boat/houses of the floating village.. neither boat nor house they were floating platforms complete with gardens and festooned with brightly coloured laundry. I kept thinking how inconvenient it would be to pop next door for a cup of sugar or for children to play with their neighbours.


Our tour at an end, including the obligatory shopping stop and another fine lunch, we were returned to the hotel for a cooling swim and shower before our flight back to Bangkok.

Bangkok Sky Train - in the rush hour!

The next day, it was a frenzy of laundry and repacking ready to go south. We did find time to go out and look for a market we’d heard about near our local BTS station, Chong Nonsi. Hidden between tall buildings we found Lalai Sap market where I bought 4 big hair slides and a fancy hair clip, all for 35 Baht. The clips alone are £1.99 in Bodycare! Behind this market, joy of joys, we found another Villa Market supermarket, so much nearer to the apartment than Makro and full of lovely stuff. We took the opportunity to stock up on Gilbey’s Gin which we used to make our evening tipple as we sat on our balcony at sunset. We waited in vain for a beautiful last sunset, all we got was a gradual darkening of the sky as the sun slipped down into the evening smog.

The next day it was time to leave Bangkok for our next trip. Our flight was on time, landing in Trang at 2.25pm and by 2.40pm we’d been reunited with our baggage and were sitting in the air-conditioned luxury of our very swish transport vehicle on our way to the pier. It was at Tasae Pier, where a rather ramshackle longtail awaited us, that we left the luxury behind. We climbed aboard, our bags were hauled after us and we sat watching as crates of eggs and baskets of vegetables were piled in after us. At least we’d have a boiled egg for breakfast!

Departing Tasae pier with suitcases and extra provisions!; Arriving at Koh Sukorn Beach Bungalows (now renamed as Yataa Beach Resort)

During the 15 minute journey from Tasae to Sukorn we got more excited as we recognised the shape of each small island as we came closer. Soon the boat was skimming along the western shore of Koh Sukorn and we realised that we were being delivered to the beach in front of the resort rather than to the public pier. I began to roll up the legs of my trousers ready to jump out of the boat and wade ashore. Neither Dick nor Dee were waiting to greet us as we arrived, which we thought strange, but we were soon settled into our beachside cottage. There was plenty of time to unpack what little we needed (and get the gin into the fridge) and by 4.30pm we were enjoying our first swim in the Andaman Sea.
Later we settled ourselves on our wooden deck, with an ice-cold G&T ready for our first island sunset. Life is good.

Koh Sukorn sunset

Posted by GinSmugglers 21:35 Archived in Thailand Tagged island tropical Comments (0)

Angkor and More

Tomb Raiders

sunny 32 °C
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Day two in Angkor is 'Tomb Raider' day. There are lots of temples, palaces and wats hiding in the jungle of Angkor and in most instances, nature had taken over. No matter how large and magnificent these man made structures were, when left to its own devices, unchecked, nature reigns supreme. Over the centuries, seeds, dropped by birds, in the cracks and crevices of the buildings, grew into vast trees, their roots pushing down between the stones and eventually breaking the buildings apart.


Many of the temples have been or are being rebuilt and restored, the fallen stone blocks pieced together like giant jigsaw puzzles. Much of this restoration is being carried out with funding from governments around the world. One by the French, one by the Japanese, another by the government of India, and so on.


One temple, Tha Prohm, has been chosen to remain in its natural state without restoration, overgrown with vegetation. The huge tree roots and branches, intertwined throughout ancient stone blocks, are as magnificent as the structures themselves, yielding surprising treasures like the tiny stone face peeping out between ropes of tree roots. This is the 'Tomb Raider' temple where the film was made and where Keith waited in vain for Lara Croft to suddenly appear amongst the ruins of the corridors linking the 36 towers!


Jungle temple exploring is hard work. The structures were never meant to be easily accessible, the ancients had to suffer in the worship of their various deities. Most are approached by a long rocky, dusty track and once they are reached there's much clambering over fallen stones and climbing up and down crumbling, knee-tremblingly steep staircases.


Some are quite exposed, others hidden in cool leafy glades where the shade provides a respite from the scorching heat of the sun.


We visited 8 temples today, so many Buddha carvings, so many stone elephants and lions, so much dust...and so many Chinese tourists!

In the evening, after serious scrubbing and a few reviving G&Ts we set out once more to explore the delights of Siem Reap nightlife. We found the usual night market selling the usual tourist tat.... T shirts, colourful skirts, pants, shirts and scarves that may seem like a good idea here, but which would never see the light of day at home, 'designer' bags and watches.... 'Cheap, cheap, how much you pay me? How many you buy?


The aptly named 'Pub Street' was buzzing. The same motley collection of tourists that trudged around the monuments of Angkor in the day, now slog along the street of bright lights, loud music and crowded bars. It could have been any holiday town in the world apart from the menus featuring crocodile pizza or crocodile burgers.....

Posted by GinSmugglers 20:57 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temples bars Comments (1)

Angkor Wat

Temple tales and dancers

sunny 32 °C
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Temple tales and dancers...

We were collected from Siem Reap Airport after our early morning start and jettisoned headlong into our full on tour. The hot sun was a shock to the system after the air conditioned airports but this is what we came to see!

Starting at Angkor Thom where the giant gateway to the city is approached by an avenue of huge statues, lined one behind the other holding a great snake or naga. This city is home to Bayon, the temple whose tall round towers each have four enormous faces carved into the stone. We saw the long terrace, supported by carved elephants and peered closely at the bas reliefs of Gods and monsters, dancers and warriors that decorate every wall.

Angkor Thom: posing in front of the four-faced gate; Giant statues; Big head!

Bayon: Crocodile bas-relief; Elephant terrace.

Soon it was time for the big one, Angkor Wat itself, a temple so big it is a city in it's own right, surrounded by a moat and approached by bridge, not only is it the largest religious monument in the world, it is justifiably recognised as one of the 7 wonders of the modern world. I could attempt to describe the ornate carvings, the splendid towers but pictures do that better, I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnificence and imposing beauty of the place. We clambered to the top of the highest tower, up a near vertical flight of steps, to what is still a place of worship, and felt better for it. The views are magnificent but the atmosphere is peaceful.

Angkor Wat: main towers; bas-reliefs; view from the top

By now it was time for a very late lunch and on to the hotel where, as soon as we were able, flung ourselves into the rather chilly swimming pool. Bliss, such relief said Diane's feet.

That evening we were whisked off to a dinner show at another hotel. Very well done, with tables set around the pool and with a vast selection of Khmer and assorted International fare we were spoiled for choice. Cambodian food is similar to Thai, but less spicy.

Apsara dancers

The show consisted of traditional and 'apsara' dances performed by a talented and enthusiastic group of performers in lovely detailed costumes. Apsara dancing is the kind that involves a lot of slow intricate movements, balanced on one leg with bent knees.... I tried it, it's hard but they'd be pleased with me at the gym for trying.

Posted by GinSmugglers 20:28 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temples Comments (1)

To Bangkok via Doha

One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster.....

sunny 34 °C
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Or so the song goes.... actually we've now been here two nights and not managed a single oyster, just lots of prawns and crab.....

Our journey was pretty straightforward once we'd battled through the snow, sleet, rain and roadworks on the drive to Manchester Airport. We can certainly recommend Qatar Airways, comfortable plane, good food and entertainment, a very slick operation indeed. Once we arrived at Bangkok Airport we found, for the benefit of those of you who have visited here before, two changes for the better. Firstly, the milling crowds at immigration are now corralled into a long Disneyesque winding queue which you shuffle along to get into a line to go through immigration. Second, the taxi system is now automated, you are issued a numbered ticket and the taxis pull into correspondingly numbered bays for you. We had a pleasant, chatty driver who actually turned on the meter without being asked!

Li'l Monkey & the Bangkok skyline

We are staying at The Marriott (timeshare) again in the usual very nice, well equipped apartment. We're on the 16th floor this time which is higher than it sounds as the numbering system doesn't begin until after about the 7th floor... I don't know why. Not so high you're scared to sit on the balcony but high enough to see the view, such as it is, of lots of other tower blocks. One disappointment though, the handy supermarket, three doors down, has closed, the whole block is being redeveloped into condominiums in this highly desirable residential area. Consequently we had to slog all the way to Makro, struggle around trying to find single items amongst all the multipacks, then drag all of our comestibles back along the road. We could have taken a taxi, but the traffic was moving at a snail's pace (as is usual in Bangkok) and we made it faster on foot.

Diane at Chatachuk Market

Since then, after sleeping for 13 hours on the first night, we've been out enjoying ourselves, riding the Chao Praya riverboats up and down just for fun, having a massage at our favourite parlour ('One Pho'), eating soft shell crabs and giant prawns at Lek Seafood and exploring street stalls and markets. Today we did as all tourists in Bangkok are expected to do on a Saturday, we went to Chatuchack Market (various spellings for this) and wandered around the crowded alleyways getting lost as usual. This market has lost it's charm for me.... too hot, (I know, what did I expect, it's Bangkok?) too crowded and far too expensive these days. A seething mass of the wandering bewildered all intent upon securing the bargains that are no longer to be had. It actually seems cheaper to buy the usual silks and souvenirs from other markets including the apparently upmarket Asiatique (restaurants, shows, shops, markets all in converted warehousing on the river) where we had an excellent meal yesterday night, at Ban Kanitha, sitting on the waters edge watching fireworks across the river.

Keith's glass of Singha beer

This visit, Bangkok seems different somehow.... the streets look cleaner although your shoes tell a different story, and it's a bit less humid than on previous visits... what's missing is that unique, heady mixture of the scent of heat, diesel, jasmine, fried chilli and sewers.... Is it seasonal?

Early start tomorrow, as we get up before 4 am to travel to the airport, and on to Cambodia - specifically Siem Reap and Angkor Wat!

Posted by GinSmugglers 04:11 Archived in Thailand Tagged city big Comments (0)

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