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Thailand – the one that nearly got away

July 3rd, 2008 · No Comments

Fresh from Africa and thirsty for more travel, we took our next opportunity to travel during the Easter break – destination Thailand.  Julian booked some cheap airfares with Jetstar and Brunei Airways including stopovers in Brisbane then Brunei and the same on the return trip home. Sounded like a good plan at the time.

Julian always plans our holidays, he thrives on organising and scheduling so you can imagine my surprise when we turned up at the wrong airport….

Our Jetstar flight was due to leave Melbourne at 9.30pm so off we drove to Melbourne airport with passports, tickets, luggage and that all important excited holiday feeling.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing; all the signs were there now that I look back:

  • sign number one – empty bus from long term parking to terminal
  • sign number two – empty terminal

A Jetstar employee approached us at the terminal and asked where we were going.  Thailand idiot, where do you think we are going? I thought to myself.  Instead I responded, ‘Melbourne to Brisbane, are we the only ones travelling?’  ‘Um’, replied Jetstar Matt, ‘your plane is actually leaving from Avalon airport in Geelong.  But it’s OK; you are not the first ones to do this, oh and by the way you won’t make your flight, it’s too late.’

Jetstar Matt’s was clearly joking.  I was looking around for Ashton Kutcher and hidden cameras.  Unfortunately there was no one around to say Punkd, or Smile you’re on candid camera. Instead Jetstar Matt checked our tickets as though that would help the situation.  Julian and I were stunned silent and couldn’t really think straight.  We toyed with the idea of trying to rush out to Avalon airport but then figured there was probably no point.  I wasn’t too keen on being one of those late people running like crazy to catch a flight.

There was nothing we could do so instead of being one of those late crazy people running to catch a flight we were now one of those stupid people that went to the wrong airports and missed their flight. I tried not to take it out on Julian but it wasn’t long before I exploded ‘how could you not check the tickets!’ Blah blah blah, rah rah rah yada yada yada and on I went all the way home.

The thing about Julian is that he never gives up and will always find a solution.   He decided to forge on with the holiday and booked a different flight directly to Bangkok the very next day…..   Problem solved $700 later.  Little did we know that our travel dramas did not end there.

We had 8 days to spend in Thailand and we made the most of it visiting Chiang Mai followed by a few days in Bangkok.

If you asked what I most enjoyed about Thailand I would have to say the coconut ice cream.  I took every opportunity to eat this divine food and the best place to indulge in this was a colourful and charming little restaurant in Bangkok called Harmonique.  The coconut ice cream served with fresh mango was so popular that we had to order it at the start of our meal and put it on hold until dessert.

A taxi driver offered his daily services to us in Chiang Mai, for two days we drove around and explored the city.  It wasn’t long before we realized that our taxi driver received bonus payments for taking us to certain places but we didn’t really care after all everyone has to make a living.  The only thing we didn’t enjoy was the carpet shops and the monkey training school.

By the time I walked into my second carpet shop I knew how the routine was going to go.  A sleazy suited up young guy with shiny black shoes was going to greet me at the door with a cold drink and an offer to take me on Persian treasure tour beyond my wildest dreams.  It would start with silk fabrics and bedspreads, antique ornaments and finally the piece de resistance the magic carpet.   Let me say I am not particularly taken with the idea of spending thousands of dollars on a Persian carpet no matter how much of a fine piece of artistry it is.  Mr Shiny Shoes went to painstaking extremes to sell his carpets, he swirled them in the air and spun them around on the floor so you could see the brilliant colours in different light. Finally he would send the carpet skidding across the wooden floor boards so it would land dramatically assuming this would seal the deal.  The best I could offer was ‘wow your carpets really do look like flying carpets’ or ‘you certainly don’t get this experience at Carpet Court back in Australia.’

Frustrated in not making a sale, he asked, ‘we have many many beautiful things here, is there not something beautiful you would like?’  ‘No’, I replied, ‘I have already bought many beautiful things today.’  ‘What beautiful things have you bought today?’ was his next question.  ‘Well’, I replied ‘I bought um some paintings, yes paintings and some jewellery.’  This wasn’t a total lie – I had bought a bracelet from a market stall for $2.00.

The monkey training school was far worse than the Persian carpet experience.  I had a bad feeling before we entered the place.  I was confronted by couple of glum looking Colobus monkeys staring out of their tiny little prison.

Inside there were about 20 monkeys individual tied up to one little metal stand each unable to move from their concrete floor.  Their only form of play- running around and around their metal pole.  The cheesy music blared out from the speakers indicating a monkey show was about to start.  The entire crowd howled with laughter as the little monkeys were made to do ridiculous and demeaning tricks. I watched the crowd in horror – could they not see that this was clearly violating animal rights?  I was so upset and left a couple of minutes into the show.

Another tourist saw me upset and mentioned the sign stating that the monkeys are taken away every day at 5pm to an open area.  ‘Are you a moron?’ I screamed at him.  Do you believe that every day at 5pm someone comes to take the monkeys away?  And even if they do are we supposed to feel better about what we are seeing here!’

I had been keen to visit the Elephant Nature Foundation but our driver took us to the Elephant camp instead.  I muttered and I mumbled as I watched the elephants painting pictures and spouting water through their trunks.  I apologized to my little elephant friend as I fed him some bananas and cane sugar.

My final animal experience was not a bad one and a much debated one from what I have read – the Tiger Temple in Kanchanburi.  I did not find the temple as bad as what I had expected; it’s hard to explain why, perhaps it was for purely selfish reasons, because patting a tiger was something I always wanted.  I can tell you this much, the environment may be not perfect but it’s a work in progress and the tigers are well looked after.

I wasn’t interested in standing in a line for an hour only to spend a minute patting a tiger so I insisted on getting their early to see if we would have any chance of having some real interaction with them.  This approach worked.  We arrived at 11.30am a couple of hours before the tiger show started.  Five or six young tigers were bought out of the cages to socialize and I was lucky to spend an hour patting and bottle feeding the younger cubs with a handful of other tourists.  I was amazed to see the tigers behaving like my dog, rolling over on their backs demanding a tummy rub.  What can I say about giving a tiger a tummy rub?  It’s much the same as patting a dog except a tiger has sharper claws and larger teeth!

What’s a visit to Thailand without a cooking course?
We put our culinary skills to the test at Smart Cook Thai Cookery School in Chiang Mai. The secret to a good red curry is measured by how sore you arms are.  The more your arms ache after constantly pounding chilies, the better your curry will be. Mac our host was the highlight of the course, not only did she manage to teach us how to make a mean spring roll but she also spiced up our meals with her enthusiasm and sense of humour.

If you recall the beginning of my story I mentioned our travel dramas had not ended.  Our time in Thailand was about to come to an end or so we thought.  We arrived at Bangkok airport with our passports, tickets, luggage and that all important I don’t want to go home feeling.  At least we had a night in Brunei to look forward to. However this was not the case according to the Brunei airways. The airline had cancelled our ticket because we had not checked in on the way to Bangkok so they assumed we were not going to fly return.  Since when did Brunei airways have an ‘assumption’ policy in place?

The upshot – no ticket and no way of getting home.

Julian came to the rescue and excitedly announced that we could spend another night and day in Bangkok and catch a direct flight home tomorrow night…..  Problem solved $700 later.

We decided to make the most of this misfortune and spent our last night at the Royal Orchid Sheraton and the next day Chatuchak market.

I am not really a huge fan of shopping these days but I enjoyed Chatuchak market.  I had to buy a cheap hat and fan and a huge bottle of water in the first 10 minutes but after a while the intense humidity must have triggered some shopping neurons because I was shopping and bargaining with the best of them.  Four hours later I had a big grin on my face when I calculated that I had bought an entire wardrobe for no more than $100.00.

And do you think the run of bad luck ended when we arrived back home?  No of course it didn’t because things happen in threes don’t they?  My luggage arrived but Julian’s didn’t and where were the keys to the car I ask?  Not in Julian’s hand luggage where they should have been, they were in his check in luggage.  The rest of the story involves swearing, phone calls and taxis but things turned out in the end.  The bag was found and arrived 2 days later.

Julian and I both agree that things don’t usually go wrong for us when we travel; we figured it was just our turn this time.

We have already planned our next end of year holiday -South America and even if something does go wrong I am sure Julian will find a solution as always.

Tags: thailand · travel

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