Travel Blog: Week 59

Northern Thailand – Chiang Mai and Australia

Week 59: 23.12.2013 – 29.12.2013

Monday:-

The sun was out and I took a chair, plonked it in the front garden and soaked in the warmth whilst I ate my breakfast. Coco, the dog, and the cats had settled down and calmly joined me in the sun.

I really didn’t want to do anything today. I had everything I needed so stayed home …in the sun! I did do a workout but spent the day reading and starting to write down some of the things that were still floating around in my head, bothering me. For a lazy day it was quite productive. My reward ……cheese on toast!

I’d been invited to a jam session at Boy Blues Bar. A mezzanine bar in the Kalare Night Bazzare. After being in all day I decided to go. I went a little early as I wanted to look at the new IQ phone – a number of people had got one and raved about it. It was unlocked and quad band so I could buy local SIM cards and use it anywhere. It also had 2 SIM slots so I could probably use my UK SIM in it too. I put on my many layers of clothes, including socks and trainers tonight – it was seriously cold. I met Ray, my technical support, at the Kad suan Kaew iMobile store. They were out of stock of the one I wanted, and told us their branch at Airport Plaza would also be. Not taking ‘no’ for an answer (Ray’s been here 8 years so knows the score) we jumped two up on Ray’s scooter and went to Airport Plaza. Not only did they have the phone but they gave me 5% off. I’ve always had free mobile upgrades in the past so paying for a phone was odd, but it was worth it. We stopped by at Robinsons to buy 13 Santa hats then legged it back to town, collecting my scooter along the way, and the jam night.

  

There was quite a crowd of us at Boy Blues, and what was so lovely for me was I knew most of them and got a warm welcome. The music, musicians and singers were fantastic and a few of them were from our group. There was much laughing, singing and dancing. I layered up again, found my scooter (Ray had taken me a different route there and I’d lost my bearings again) and headed home. It was after midnight and I was chilled to the bone.

  

  

I woke shivering that night, so did a quick recce of the house and found another duvet. After that I was out for the count!

Tuesday:-

I did laundry this morning before packing for a full day out and heading into town. I also packed up a few things to take to Leo’s – I’d leave these things here when I went to Australia.

Having considered what was best for Coco I topped up his outside water bowl, and food bowl, and left him outside with a blanket.

It was a funny day and didn’t really go as planned. I never got round to lunch as I spent time at Dream House, and wandering around town. Bless, Waew’s friend Indy gave me a present for Christmas. They don’t even celebrate Christmas here. She’d wrapped it and had managed to write the label in English. These are truly heartwarming moments.

I changed into my party gear, put on some make-up!!!!!, and bought some beers before setting off for Maggie’s party meeting point. I had visions of many scooters converging at the arranged place, luckily the organic veg place I go to – so I knew where to go, and then travelling in convoy for 15 minutes or so to Maggie’s. As it happened there were only a few of us, and Maggie’s place was two minutes away. I gave Steve, who walked with sticks, a lift on my scooter, he was a rather nervous passenger and he even apologised for the death grip he applied to my shoulder.

Maggie’s house was huge and in a cul-de-sac of houses around a wonderful garden. The garden was the party venue. Some fairy lights, and a few small decorated trees were the only signs it was Christmas. I arrived just as the truck ladened with 25 pizzas arrived. The aroma was amazing as they took the tarp of the back to reveal the steaming boxes. Oh my, I was hungry. Just at that moment my phone rang. It was John, Anahit’s husband. He had decided he’d had enough of the retreat and was coming home tomorrow. Not much I could do about it now but tomorrow I’d need to move out. Moving again!!!

The party was just incredible. I knew loads of people and made many new friends. This is how Christmas should be. The party had been thrown together at the last moment, everyone took some food or chipped in for the pizzas, no one bought presents or cards, we just enjoyed each other’s company. It was cold but not like at home so, with a few layers and strategic sitting in close proximity to each other to share body warmth we were warm enough to enjoy the outdoor celebration. Once the live music had finished – singing and playing from Leo and Oliver, accompanied by percussion on the trash bins and empty Pringles pots – the disco started. Music from a laptop hooked up to some speakers. The grassy area under the huge tree at the end of the garden became the dance floor and we danced…for hours….to internationally supplied music.

  

  

  

  

All too soon the party wound down. We saw in Christmas Day and then went our own ways. My journey home seemed to go quickly and I was greeted by a very happy Coco.

Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Wednesday (Christmas Day):-

Woke quite early as I was unexpectedly moving today. I took the morning at an easy pace but wanted to be washed and dressed in case John did come home this morning. I had smoothie and bacon and eggs – the fridge was almost empty, but what was left could come with me (well if I’d actually remembered to pack it!!)

I’m glad I did as sure enough John arrived just as I finished dressing. I packed up my bags and hoped that I could manage all three of them in one trip. I said my goodbyes to John, coco the dog (we parted as friends) and the cats and set off. A little wobbly at first with the bulk and weight. The roads were kind. I reached Leo’s and unpacked. Dropped in to see Waew – another present and wonderful card

It was well into the afternoon and I was hungry. I wandered around trying to decide what to eat. There was a market set up at Tha Pae gate, which was unusual for a Wednesday, but I bought a pad Thai served on a banana leaf plate.

  

The guys had started to collect here – it was Christmas Day and someone had come up with the bright idea of giving away hugs. The volunteer numbers grew and soon there were 20, 30, more of us. Some people adamantly refused point blank to receive a hug but many people really embraced, literally, the event. Tourists from all over the world, locals, children, a guy dressed as Santa and even the local policeman (eventually) joined in the hugs. Seriously folks it was wonderful, liberating and my smile could not have been bigger. Photos were taken by us, passerbys, and the local rag. At 6pm drew near we gathered for group photos which also drew a crowd.

  

 

  

  

  

 

One amazing story I must share was about an Italian guy. He was disabled and so got around on a converted three wheeled bicycle. He was pretty scruffy looking and to be honest not someone you’d immediately want to hug. I chatted with him…..he came to Chiang Mai about 3 or 4 years ago for medical treatment. At that time he was completely paralysed. His English wasn’t the best (but way better than my Italian) but I think he said he’d been having acupuncture. He now had some mobility in his body and could move around the old town on his bike – although he still didn’t have the use of his right arm, so couldn’t shake hands. He got a hug from us all. He later admitted he hadn’t been hugged for over 10 years and that today had made his year. We kind of adopted him as a volunteer hugger and gave him his own ‘Free Hugs’ sign. He hugged the tourists like the best of us! That in itself is a heartwarming story but it gets better. Days later someone spotted him one evening. This was their facebook update and photo…..

“On Christmas Day this year, some friends and I went out to a central meeting spot in our city to give away free hugs. It turned out to be one of the best times I’ve had in a while, and something I’ll remember for a very long time. The makeshift event attracted a variety of people from different walks of life — by the end, we were a mish-mash of strangers, drawn together through a shared intention of spreading the love! We showed up with nothing more than handmade signs, a few cameras, Santa hats, and the desire to connect with other people.

One of the most special moments was when an old man on a rickety bicycle stopped by to see what all the fuss was about. (Who are these crazy huggers holding colorful signs?) Someone in the group walked over to the man to offer a free hug. He accepted, somewhat reticently, and afterward announced that this had marked the first time he’d been hugged in a decade! He stuck around for the rest of the afternoon, giving free hugs to other people. Then we saw the same old man giving out hugs at the Sunday market later that week – this is the picture we took. Who says a hug cannot change a life. God Bless – this was one of my Christmas miracles.”

Tell me you’re not moved by this!!!!

Anyway, Luise gave me a lift to Blue Diamond cafe and our group took up residence at a number of the outside tables. Some of us were going to Jelena’s party later for some food, so I just had a drink. As it turned out everyone crashed the party and we all drove there in convoy. I love this! Everyone took food and wow, it was fantastic. There was even CHEESE! Leo played guitar and there was singing – including classics from The Sound of Music. It is Christmas!! The house was cold and I bundled under cushions and coats to keep toasty.

It was a speedy return home, it’s the only way in these nighttime temperatures.

I’d missed a few Skype calls from Dad but as I was staying at Leo’s and sound travels here I just messaged him – we’d catch up tomorrow.

Thursday:-

I woke to the sound of a Skype call coming in. It was 1am UK time but Dad was still up, so we kind of got to speak on Christmas Day. Needless to say I was sleepy and not the most coherent!

I dosed for a while longer and then, wrapped in the duvet, got up and sat downstairs to reply to emails, play with the kitten and eat breakfast with Leo. This went on until almost midday. The house was cold, as was the water, so we headed out in search of the sauna. A tiny steamy room – we thought we’d get a room each but we managed to both squeeze in. The steam was really hot and in close proximity so we didn’t last long but we’d got what we needed – to warm up. A quick rinse in the unpredictable shower temperature, cold, warm, scolding hot, cold, hot, cold, etc, and then we set off home. A stop at the smoothie place for a drink called ‘The One’ (banana, mango and spiralina) and then on the steps of the nearby temple steps to drink said smoothie and sing ‘feed the birds’…..you know, “tuppence a bag”…..Mary Poppins.

The sun was gorgeous today and so I returned to the Italian restaurant and my favorite little metal table and just absorbed the warmth. A supa dupa tuna salad and contentment.

After a few hours, or more who knows, I went back to Leo’s to rendezvous with her and ‘The Russians’ as she calls them. We were going to Central Festival to watch ’47 Ronin’. The route there was busy in the rush hour traffic but this was part of the route to Anahit’s so I knew it well and it was a doddle. I met the guys in the queue for tickets only to find 5:30 was the Thai dubbed screening. We had plenty of time for something to eat – a gorgeous salad wrap from Salad Concept, followed by a juice drink to with the catchy title ‘anti-cancer’.

I have to say the producers of the film preview deserves a medal. They came up with a masterpiece formed from shreds of OKness. I give the film 5, 6 at a push for the special effects, out of 10.

We headed home but I stopped off at Tha Pae gate to meet the lovely Eva and collect my scarf as well as watching some of the new year build up celebrations and then onto the Hollywood bar to say a quick hello/goodbye to Taywin.

  

I attempted some packing but the warmth of the duvet was far more inviting!

Friday:-

I’d set the alarm to make sure I woke early to give myself enough time to have breakfast, pack and see Waew. The initial plan was to for Leo to drop me at the station on her way to Qi Gong. It soon became very apparent that wasn’t going to happen, everything takes longer here. I’ve just slowed down!

I said my adieu to Leo and finished packing. I returned my scooter (boo) and popped into see Waew. Sadly, she’d left early as her father was ill. After hugs from Art and Indy, I jumped in a song Tao and I was off. Feels weird to be leaving. This in itself was strange as only a few weeks ago I was questioning the merits of Chiang Mai. Now, after a week of the most amazing social life, my feelings have changed. I really wanted to stay for new year as there were so many events and parties being arranged. I couldn’t change my flight, I tried, but it would mean losing the flights and consequently the money, and rebooking. The prices were at least double what I paid. And anyway my visa ended on the second so I would have to arrange something. I decided I would go with plan A. How lucky I am to have such wonderful choices. I would be back to Chiang Mai though – maybe I would have a birthday party when I returned???

I was soon at the airport. I went to check in but this was the international desk. 500 meters away was the domestic desk. Having only had a bowl of dry granola, my yoghurt was sadly still sitting in Anahit’s fridge, I decided to have a treat. Sausage and egg mcmuffin – an absolute joy!

The flight left on time, was comfortable, quick and we were given a complementary snack and drink. We arrived at Suvarnabhumi airport – I had paid extra and would have a bit of a wait here but at least my next departure would be the same airport so I wouldn’t need to cross Bangkok. My luggage appeared on the carousel, I found the international departures, and everything was going swimmingly. I just needed to find the AirAsia check in desk. Yeah? where is the AirAsia desk? I asked rather than circling the departure area. Everything WAS going swimmingly, until that is they told me that AirAsia now depart from Don Muang airport. Obviously new information for all those helpful people who told me to fly into Suvarnabhumi – “it will be easier”! Note to self, check travel paperwork before booking connecting flights. The info was all there I JUST DIDNT LOOK!

So, thankfully with time to spare I found the free shuttle bus and got on. It’s an hours journey across a very smoggy Bangkok. Don Muang was like a cattle market. I don’t think I’ve been to a more cramped, busy airport….ever. Luckily, although it was still three hours until my flight I was able to check in, dump my bag, and move through security at a leisurely pace. I had time to browse the shops and I ate the freebie snack from the previous flight.

  

  

The time soon ticked away and I wandered to the gate for the last hour of waiting. I got rather engrossed in updating my blog so when I looked up almost everyone had boarded.

The flight was full but we all had large black pleather covered seats. The really important people got red pleather. Not bad for a budget airline. I splashed out on a meal – that doesn’t come as standard with the flight. It was surprisingly good, although for “healthy chicken and rice” I won’t mention how many calories it had!

We soon landed, disembarked and went through KL airport security. Apparently this was not the main Kuala Lumpur Airport and it showed. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a long winded transit. We were directed up to another floor only to be redirected back down the same escalators to the transfer room. All passports were checked and bags re-scanned which all seemed to take forever. My usual experience is that you just go from the inbound gate to the outbound gate! Anyway, I got through to the departure lounge. A rather grand name for this particular space. This is probably the grottiest airport I ever been too, apart from the duty free shop which was pristine. The toilets were awful, doors hanging off, toilet on constant flush and consequently flooded floors.

I had a few hours to wait before my flight. Even this was confusing as we were called to the boarding gate really early, and the gate was flashing ‘final call’??? Had I missed something, was the time difference from Thailand more than I thought? By my reckoning we still had 1 hour before the boarding time on my boarding card. I was grilled by a rather official looking, uniform clad officer as I went through the boarding gate. But sure enough we still had an hour or so to wait. Considering the time of day there were a lot of families travelling and the kids ran around like mad things. Hopefully they would all sleep on the plane.

Saturday:-

At last we got the call to embark. I was row 50 which was pretty much sitting on the tail. I had a isle seat in the central block of three seats. Right until the doors closed I had the row to myself but then someone swapped seats and moved to the opposite aisle seat. And there’s me thinking I could stretch out on this flight. The guy was called Alex and he was well over six foot – bless him, this was not going to be comfortable for him. We chatted a while in between sessions of trying to sleep. I managed to snooze by curling up across my seat and the one empty one. This really was a budget flight – all food and drinks had to be paid for and as I had no local currency I did without both. There was no in flight entertainment and the cabin was cold – thankfully I had a flight blanket I’d half-inched from a previous flight but if not I would have had to have rented one – rent blankets!!…..really!!

It was only a 5 hour flight but it felt like the longest I’d been on in a while. The delay on the tarmac didn’t help. We landed at last and I stepped out onto Aussie turf. It was 5:30 am and I was feeling groggy, but I was alert enough to spot the e-passport machines and basically breezed through the whole immigration section in no time. Straight through customs and out – this was my fastest airport exit ever!

Ange was waiting for me at arrivals and our timing was so perfect that the car parking was free. Back along the freeway, keeping to the speed limit this time. It was still only about 7am.

I wasn’t feeling overly hungry until Ange mentioned …toast…and then bacon. Not just any bacon, proper bacon from a butcher wrapped in paper. Each rasher was about 12 inches long. How could I refuse? So a bacon sarnie, followed by a long hot shower and then a snooze. I woke around 12:30 – I think.

At 2pm we left to travel south and attend a BBQ at Nicky and Wayne’s. Nicky used to work at ELAS – small world! It was a great afternoon and the spread of food was a sight for my little sore eyes. Oh my, a heavenly buffet of ‘all things yummy’. My cup runneth over. Another awesome meal in less than 12 hours. We had a tour of the house, there is so much more space here, before heading home.

Well fed and in a totally comfy room I slept like a baby!

Sunday:-

So, after such a large meal the night before I would surely still be full. Well, if it had been down to me I would have had a smoothie but Ange had different ideas. She was already in full flow of a big English brekkie cook up for the three of us when I got up. Oh, go on then……if you insist!!!

I worked my way through my laundry. It all smelled pretty stale and also something had leaked in my bag and had gone everywhere so that needed washing off. The first load finished, and I hung it up and started the second before Ange and I set off for sale shopping.

The park cark and stores were surprisingly quiet and so shopping was a joy. I spent more than I have for a while but got some bargains; shoes, knickers (I’d managed amazingly well for the last year on just a few pairs), t-shirt, hair stuff for frizzy hair (thank goodness), and an Aussie SIM. My biggest spend was on a proper juicer. It was a compact design and was a half price bargain. I could get it in my carry on luggage and take it back to Thailand. Perfect! (Thank you Mum and Dad for your Christmas contribution to this).

I also stocked up on fruit and veg to start my smoothie and now juice regime. Crikey – ginger is expensive here!

Ange and I had been gone hours when we returned home. Nigel had been busy in our absence. He’d worked through a to-do list which included cooking curry for dinner and get this….. he’d hung up my second load of laundry and ironed everything – left it all looking pristine on my bed. I don’t think I’ve ever had a man do ironing for me, and certainly none of those particular items of clothing had been crease free since they hung in the store! Top marks to Nigel!

I spent the evening unpacking as it was the first chance I’d had since I arrived. And now all my things were clean and fresh.

Time for bed.

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