Bangkok, Thailand

Saturday 21 December 2013

This grand family holiday adventure has taken months and months of planning. In fact a gestation period of exactly 9 months. Searching for locations our families could agree on, then searches for accommodation and the right flights to get one family here from Australia and others from England. Now the day has finally arrived for us to head off on this Christmas-New Year family adventure.

Our immediate disappointment at check-in that our flight was delayed was quickly overcome when we were upgraded to Business Class!!! The excitement continued when we got to our Hotel near the airport BS Residence/Premier Airport, 836/1 Ladkrabang Rd., Ladkrabang and met up with Adrienne, Andy, Emma and Luke.

A quick swim for the boys and a catch-up over a beer for the rest of us, then off to dinner. I’d read about Paseo Mall, a nearby shopping mall on Ladkrabang Road. From Thursday to Monday evenings there is a night market in the forecourt and around the forecourt are a number of restaurants, ignoring the numerous Americanised fast food joints.

At the far end of the Mall we came across what looked like a classic home style Thai restaurant and we weren’t disappointed. We ordered up a feast:

•    Spicy Papaya Salad with Shrimps
•    Roast Chicken
•    Pork Noodles
•    Roast Pork
•    Tofu (that we thought might be spicy Rolls from the menu)
•    Eggplant with Chilli Jam
•    Deep Fried Pork Short Ribs (the only disappointing selection)
•    and Fried Whole Sea Bass

Everything was fresh and spicy, a great meal to launch our adventure.

The 15 minute walk back to the hotel was fascinating as we passed local restaurants and street vendors finishing up after their night. One vendor had trays of fried locusts, fried beetles and fried grubs – perhaps another time to be tempted, perhaps?

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Our arrival into Chiang Mai International Airport goes without a hitch until the representative of Baan Orapin realises there are 9 of us. Liam and Tess are there to greet us having arrived a few minutes earlier from overnight in Bangkok.

The Baan Orapin representative decides to toss a couple out of a sorn-taa-ou (sorntaaou in Luang Prabang as I understand it, same type of vehicle), leaving the driver to manoeuvre all of us and our luggage into this ‘clearly not big enough’ vehicle. Four large suitcases are piled onto the front passenger seat and the five others line the floor in the back between the two benches. Now somehow the 9 of us squeeze in and believe it or not but we are all somehow in and heading off. By the way, the tossed couple were put into a smaller vehicle, not abandoned!

We turn off the busy and dusty Th Charoenraj Rd. through large timber gates into an oasis that is Baan Orapin (Baan means house or home, while Orapin was the grandmother who established the original homestead here in 1914. The family still live in the house with the manager Opus being the grandson of Orapin). Accommodation is in a number of residences built throughout the tree filled shady garden.

We are in the rear wing, much quieter, just beyond the pool; the best spot. Our rooms are traditionally stylish and spacious with separate living and bedrooms. Even though we aren’t within the old walled city, this will be an ideal setting with gardens for the boys to play cricket and soccer, space for us to relax, including our own balconies and only a few minutes tuk-tuk ride from where all the action is in central Chiang-Mai. Great value for money.

Speaking of ‘value for money’, it is highly recommended that visitors to Chiang Mai get hold of Nancy Chandler’s Map of Chiang Mai, sold in newsagents. Every single thing you could possibly want to find is there, it’s brilliant.

It’s about 4:00pm before we are ready to venture out and we are a bit betwixed and between. It’s not quite time for dinner but we are a bit peckish. We head south along Th Charonnat in search of the foot bridge that will take us across the Mae Ping River and directly toward the old city. The foot bridge is proving elusive to find. I’ve headed down a vacant lot to the river but can’t see it; while Jill and Adrienne have walked through a bar to the riverfront deck beyond to discover that the footbridge is no longer, having been washed away! What is it with us and inaccessible foot bridges! First, in Luang Prabang it was under water, and now here it no longer exists.

However our venturing to the river front brings the realisation that a string of restaurant line the river to the left and right of our location. We could have landed in a gem of a part of town, right by the Riverside. We head into the Riverside Restaurant for a couple of beers and plates of Satay Chicken, a plate of Crispy Shredded Mushrooms with Sesame Seeds and Kaffir Lime Leaves and a very chilli spiced Beef Salad with Mint Leaves. Wow did that salad pack a punch; I’d forgotten just how chilli spiced some Thai salads can be when we have become used to the milder versions back home. The plates of Chicken Satays went down a treat.

Yes that was just our pre-dinner snacks for we now heading out for dinner! First we head north, then west along Maneenopparat Rd toward Chang Puak Gate in search of a not to be found night food market. Andy to the rescue with the suggestion of heading into the old city. We stroll down the Phra Pokklao before stumbling upon the UN Irish Pub on Th Ratwithi. Not really the Thai experience we were anticipating on our first night, but hey the menu will suit all nine of us and “when in Chiang Mai drink Guinness, to be sure”. I’ve gone for the Panang Chicken Curry, tender chicken medallions in a rich coconut cream sauce, while Adrienne says the Massaman Beef Curry was very good.

Saturday 28 December

Breakfast at Baan Orapin is perfect, ordering off the menu for omelettes or eggs, done how you like, or fried rice cooked freshly. Not a drab buffet breakfast, hooray! After leading everyone astray last night traipsing to a non-existent food market, I feel the need to make amends by guiding everyone via Sorn-taa-ou to Saturday Walking Street, a renowned street market. We arrive around 11:00am without a market stall in sight. A word with some locals and a close check of our Lonely Planet guidebook reveals the market doesn’t get going till 4:00pm or 5:00pm – well the book did advise to get there early before the crowds. And, thinking about it, the sorn-taa-ou driver did mutter something about dropping us “here” as we had plenty of time to make the rest of the way there!

After a cool drink and ice creams in a cafe it’s once again Andy to the rescue with the suggestion of walking back along Th Wua Lai, which becomes Saturday Walking St. (much, much later) and into the South-East corner of the old city. Emma agrees whole heartedly with this suggestion as that’s right near Kate’s hotel, so Emma is off. Along Wua Lai approaching Th Chang Lo there are numerous examples of northern Thai architecture, influenced by the proximity to China and with teak extensively used.

Just to the left before entering into the old city from Bamrung Buri Rd. is the Chaing Mai Gate Market, so I briefly poke my head in as stalls are closing up. Women sit behind benches piled high with Deep Fried Chicken pieces and long rings of grilled sausages.

Inside the old city, Wats dot the landscape as we begin our stroll along Th Phra Pokklao. We step into the grounds of Wat Jed Rin, also known as Ched Lin, with a line of huge gongs invitingly asking us to gently ‘gong’ them and experience the deep vibrations through your entire body. Inside the Wat a huge golden Buddha looks down peacefully. Toward the rear of the grounds is a tranquil pond with turtles sunning themselves on giant lily pads. We all enjoyed being off the busy streets for a peaceful moment.

Back along Th Phra Pokklao and with a right turn into Ratchadamnoen Rd., (Sunday Walking St.) and we arrive at the very busy Tha Phae Gate, even busier because stalls and stage are being set in preparation for NYE. Across the Moat we spot Daret’s House on Chaiyaphoom Rd. and it looks just the place for lunch.

•    light, fresh basil flavours blended with mild chilli spice in the Chicken with Basil Leaves
•    another hit from the zing of fresh tiny chillies in the Spicy Shrimp Saladalso a pretty good version of the traditional Pad Thai (stir fried rice noodles with bean sprouts, bean curd, egg and crushed peanuts)
•    and light saltiness of soy with once again chilli spice through silken flat noodles in the Pad See Ew with Chicken

Off to meet up with Susan, Ian and Kate at their hotel, the Kodchasri Thani, for a pre-dinner drink around the pool. Ian and Susan very thoughtfully have a small late Christmas gift for each of us. Ian asks each of us to select a number from 1 to 12, there are 12 of us, and then dives into his Santa bag pulling out the gift for number one, then number two and so on. We all open our gifts and as if by magic all the adults have bitter adult chocolate and all the ‘kids’ have a bag of sweet chocolates. Now how did that happen?

We all pile into a sorn-taa-ou for the relatively short trip just north of the city to Paak Dang Restaurant, 46/1 Wongsingh-Khum Rd. A lovely garden setting right on the river with food surpassing this wonderful location:

•    Dumpling Wontons with Pork
•    Shrimp Cakes
•    Vegetable Spring Rolls
•    Paper Prawns
•    Fried Chicken topped with fried, shredded lemongrassBoiled Eggs covered with deep fried pork
•    Whole Steamed Sea Bass with Thai Herbs (fish was good but unfortunately the Thai Herbs looked more like a grey-green sludge over the fish!)
•    A very spicy Curry with Vegetables and Pork
•    Red Curry with Chicken
•    Stir-Fried Ribbon Noodles with Chicken
•    The Thai Northern Sausage was disappointing, a bit soggy. The Luang Prabang sausages win hands down.

It was a fantastic night with our three families meeting up in this far away place to share one of our best meals so far, whiling the night away with wine and laughter. And the laughter didn’t end here. In fact it hit a crescendo as we all squeezed into a convoy of tuk-tuks. Ian, Susan and Kate zooming off to the thump-thump beat of their disco tuk-tuk.

Sunday 29 December

A 1:00pm, turned into more like 1:30’ish pm, meeting has been called for a planning session over lunch. With 12 people’s travel needs and desires to satisfy in a small window of time a planning session, over lunch of course, is a good idea.

We head across and down the road a bit from Baan Orapin to Regina’s. A rustic garden setting at the rear of an antiques shop. We sent out an advance party to find a lunch spot rather than have all 12 of us ambling along this busy section of Charoenraj Rd. Instead of a place for our lunch meeting the advance party has found what looks like the perfect place for us to spend NYE, Thai Gallery. They can rearrange tables to accommodate all 12 of us at one long table; our booking is confirmed with the deposit paid. What a relief! Bit of déjà vous really, just like so many New Year’s Eves, not quite knowing your plans, and it’s no different being here in Chiang Mai.

Lunch at Regina’s, I mean the planning session, turns into a lengthy affair with a few too many beers consumed as the kitchen was ill-prepared for the arrival of our small army. We were advised that our meals would take at least 45 minutes, and they were right. I just feel sorry for those who came after us, completely unaware of the delays out of the kitchen. Plenty of time however for Susan to ably step into the role of chairperson for the meeting and social secretary. Ideas are put forward, shopping, massages, elephants, cooking, Thai Boxing, markets, NYE, yoga, meditation, Kings Palace, Orphanage, Wats, chilling around the pool, and a partridge in a pear tree! All ideas are duly considered and allocated to potential morning, afternoon or evening time slot across our 4 day window. Our planning efforts diminish in inverse proportion to the arrival of bottles of beer and are then completely abandoned with the arrival of our lunch:

•    Stir-fried Broccoli with Prawn for Jill (this is a ‘non-sharing’ meal – we seem to alternate between a ‘sharing meal’ and a ‘non–sharing’ meal however there seems to be a lot of “oh, try some of this” going on during the ‘non-sharing’ meals, but it’s definitely not a sharing meal!). Jill’s prawns are succulent with crisp broccoli florets
•    Not surprisingly Pad Thai was a popular selection, however this wasn’t the best version to date
•    I went for the Fried Pork Ribs with lemon grass. Succulent crisp and tender pork ribs smothered in fried, shredded lemongrass. Just can’t get enough of that lemongrass.

The time has come for us to all take a deep breath and throw ourselves into the evening/night market on Sunday Walking St., Ratchadamnoen Rd. Just before entering the throng our strategy is to break into three groups with a ‘look after yourselves approach’ and agreement to meet at Mamory (yes that is spelt correctly) Delicious Restaurant at 9:00pm. Jill, Adrienne, Andy and I hunt as a pack; we edge away into the masses on ‘Sunday Bump and Shuffle Along St’. We haven’t gone more than ten metres and quickly agree that we might abandon if this doesn’t improve shortly. Later we learned that the Emma-Kate group abandoned early and shopped off-piste, while the Susan-Ian group decided not to even enter ‘Sunday Walking St’ but to keep on Ratchaphakinai Rd. where shopping was less congested. Our group however continued along with the bump and shuffle crowd. You can’t even pause if there is something to look at as you know 100’s are bumping and shuffling along behind you. It has thinned out a little but we still decided to pull out to the left at the next intersection. Phew, made it. “Oh no!!” The markets and throng are down here as well. OK, another deep breath, more bumping and shuffling and finally we are at the end of this street and by now it’s time to head to our 9:00pm restaurant rendezvous point. Well, it was certainly an experience. For the last hour we haven’t done anything other than bump and shuffle, no good for my arthritic knees, the right one in particular has been given a workout and I know I’ll pay for it tomorrow.

Into Mamory Delicious, 11/2 Ratchamanka Rd., to sit down and have a well earned cold beer. The restaurant owner is a very jovial Dutch guy who spent 15 years running a restaurant on the Central Coast north of Sydney before setting up some years ago here.

The menu is extensive, not only a full range of Thai dishes but selections from pretty much every other cuisine on the planet: Italian, German, French. You would be hard pressed not to satisfy every palate here. We had Chicken Schnitzels ordered at the other end of our table and as its a ‘sharing night’ tonight we ordered up big:

•    Thai Red Curry
•    Spicy Glass Noodle Salad with Prawns
•    Chicken with Cashew Nuts, a very mild dish, yet also tender and tasty
•    Stir Fry Basil
•    Whole Thai Style Fish, deep fried with Sweet and Sour. This was sensational, crispy chunks of moist flesh with mounds of crispy basil
•    Penang Curry, creamy coconut with mild spices
•    Roti Rolls – not Thai at all but too tempting to pass up. Roti rolled up with pea and potato stuffing and a coconut curry for dipping. A taste sensation. A bit like a Roti Samosa!

With the exception of the spicy Glass Noodle Salad the food was exceptional, particularly given the wide range of cuisines – highly recommended.

After dinner the call is to head to a bar around the corner where Chelsea is playing Liverpool. Luke comes away smiling and Ian none too pleased as Chelsea come away as 2-1 victors.

While in the bar I met a character called Tommy (not his real name), from Portsmouth. We struck up a conversation and what a story he had to tell. Tommy is a lorry driver in his brother’s business and works hard all year to save his money for his annual pilgrimage to Phuket, where his niece was tragically killed, aged 21, in the 2004 Tsunami. Miracously his brother, sister-in-law and other niece survived. This year Tommy is being joined by another brother and his sister from Australia, who’ll celebrate her 50th birthday there.

But that’s only part of Tommy’s story. Some years ago he was divorced and not allowed access to his four boys. Funny how some thing’s turn out as three of his boys have now chosen to be with Tommy and work with him in his brother’s business. Sadly Tommy is not accepting of one of his sons who is gay. We spoke at length on this topic and I asked Tommy if he could possibly set himself a New Year’s resolution to be accepting of this son’s lifestyle choice and sexuality. Sadly Tommy couldn’t see this as a possibility and is likely to spend the rest of his days missing the joy of this son’s life as he grows from being a young adult to his more mature years.

Makes you wonder about the judgements each of us make on a regular, if not daily basis, and the experiences we miss out on because of these choices we make.

Monday 30 December

After breakfast I thought I’d head off alone to check out the fresh produce at a couple of nearby markets. The first is Talat (market) Somphet in Soi 6 off Moon Muang Rd, opposite the foot bridge over the Moat. It’s a regular haunt for Cooking School Tours and has everything one would need to cook up a meal fit for the King: curry pastes; freshly chopped cuts of pork and chicken; eggplant in all shapes and sizes; river fish; limes; garlic; coriander; galangal; ginger; turmeric; papaya; spring onions; Chinese Kale; even take-away meals neatly ladled into plastic bags.

The second market on my excursion is much bigger, Talat Lam Yai, next door to Talat Warorot, at the bustling intersection of Praisani Rd., running parallel to the Mae Ping River, and Chang Moi Rd., intersecting where the footbridge over the river used to be. Along the streets and inside you’ll quickly discover this market is catering solely for locals. You could purchase a range of fried snack foods on the street such as cicadas, grasshoppers, beetles or even fried lava to munch on as you shop inside the market for turtles, big and small, eels, big and small, as well as the more standard fare including river prawns, smoked fish, pork, every cut you could imagine, all the citrus fruits, huge bunches of shallots and baskets of every grade of chillies.

In the middle of the market huge woks are being busily worked to serve up stir fries and noodles to hungry locals in need of lunch who are tucking in at make-shift cafes set up smack bang in the middle of the market. If you only had time to visit one market, of the two I visited, this one wins hands down.

Jill, Adrienne and Tess have ventured out shopping, with jewellery in mind. While Liam, Luke and Rory have jumped in a tuk-tuk to have a work out in the gym at Susan and Ian’s hotel.

After my market adventures I’ve headed to a very cool little cafe Tiddin 2013, almost opposite Baan Orapin, 181/2 Charoenrat Rd. Compared with other cafes and restaurant this looks relatively new. Throughout the garden are wooden platforms, much like pallets, covered with a rattan mats. Low tables have been made from the same packing case timber as the platforms, with cushions scattered for comfort. A hammock is strung across one corner to complete a very laid back setting. After last night’s disappointing Glass Noodles Salad I thought I’d give it a try here and it didn’t disappoint. Gentle, fresh chilli balanced with the citrus flavours running through the noodles with minced pork, tomatoes, spring onions, shredded carrot and fresh coriander.

Basil, Healthy Thai Cookery School, 22/4 Soi 5 Siri Mangkalajarn Rd; Adrienne, Ian, Kate and I are off to an evening cooking class and with great anticipation we are greeted by Benz outside the gates of Baan Orapin and whisked away with other keen cooks to Talat Somphet for a market tour and to purchase the produce we need for cooking this evening. Before we alight from the van we are given the menu and asked to choose 1 dish from a selection of 3 in each of the 6 categories – we will each be cooking and eating 6 dishes of our own choosing! I don’t know about anyone else but I can’t wait. Coincidentally I ventured out to Talat Somphet this morning, so my comments about this market are above.

Back at the Cookery School and it’s straight to work, no demonstrations, Benz and her wonderful assistants are going to take us simultaneously step-by-step through the preparation and cooking of all 6 dishes. Noodles are first up and I’ve gone for the Drunken Noodles. Benz directs us around a bench with 8 work stations, “Drunken Noodles here, Pad Thai here and Fried Rice Noodles with Soy Sauce here”.

I don’t know how she did it, but without a recipe in sight, Benz simultaneously works through step-by-step instructions for all 3 recipes and within a few minutes all 8 of us are at our woks and then gathered in the dining room next door devouring our creations. I just love the silken texture of fresh thick noodles, complimented by sliced chicken, holy basil, baby corn, carrot, peppers, garlic, and chillies, wok tossed in a sauce of fish sauce, dark soy sauce and sugar. Wow, what a start, one down, 5 to go:

•    Hot and Sour Prawn Soup
•    Papaya Salad
•    Chicken Pa-nang Curry
•    Stir Fried Prawns in Tamarind Sauce
•    Black Sticky Rice Pudding

Suddenly its 8:00pm and I can’t believe I’ve not only cooked 6 dishes but somehow I’ve also managed to eat 6 dishes! My favourites were the Drunken Noodles, the Hot and Sour Soup with the surprise package being the Black Sticky Rice Pudding. On its own the Black Sticky Rice is very nice, but when topped with caramelised shredded coconut and swimming in coconut cream it truly is synergy in your mouth. On the van trip back we were wondering how else one might use caramelised shredded coconut? I’m wondering how it might go piled on the top of an apple crumble!?

This was truly one of the best cooking classes I’ve attended. Incredibly enjoyable, thoroughly well prepared, delightful and engaging instructors with fantastic recipes. The van drops us off at Susan and Ian’s hotel and we stroll around the corner to Dash Restaurant to join the others. Andy leads a keen party of Liam, Tess, Emma, Kate, Luke, and Rory off to Thai Boxing while the rest of us settle in to share a glass of wine and regale each other of our own adventures during another wonderful day in Chiang Mai.

Tuesday 31 December

Knowing we are in for a big party tonight, the morning is very chilled. However, one must still eat so a walk along to the Riverside for a lunch time Burger seems appropriate.

Andy and I get the setting ready for our NYE pre-dinner party at Baan Orapin. Adrienne and Andy add the finishing touches to set the mood with candles. Jill has purchased twelve lanterns however Susan and Ian arrive with another twelve enormous lanterns. As we depart Baan Orapin the lanterns are lit and float up into the night sky, joining 100s of others over Chiang Mai. We are well and truly in the mood to party now.

We are heading to Thai Gallery about one hundred metres along Charoenrat and our long table for twelve awaits. When we booked our table we spotted the pond with live River Prawns. Ever since a number of us have had BBQ prawns on our mind, and they didn’t disappoint, smoky and succulent. For some reason I’ve also been dreaming about Duck for my NYE dinner, but tragically (relatively speaking in a first world problem kind of way) they have run out of Duck. Clearly I’m not the only one who has been having such dreams. So I settle for the tender and juicy BBQ Pork Chop. The ‘kids’ end of the table is not surprisingly filled with plates of Satay Chicken straight from the BBQ grill while also from the BBQ comes Susan’s sticky Pork Ribs. A few others have been seduced by the grilled NZ Lamb Leg, served medium-rare, with Rosella Sauce. The satays at the ‘kids’ end of the tables have been replaced by a Chang Beer Tower! Liam, (and Ian I suspect) has a lot to answer for, especially when Rory departs the restaurant with the tower secreted under Tess’s shawl. There are plenty of accomplices to this crime, too many to name (by the way the Beer Tower was eventually returned and there is a whole other story there to do with Rory’s overloaded suitcase, but I think we’ll keep those details to ourselves).

Lanterns fill the sky and as midnight approaches we make our way towards the riverfront for the fireworks display, courtesy of the neighbouring Good View Restaurant. To tell you the truth we were expecting the fireworks display to be a bit of a fizz, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. Fireworks boomed right in front of us, shaking our timber deck, and then exploding colourfully right above our heads. Spectacular!

The entire family then gathered to share in a beautiful moment in the memory of dear Sam. We gathered to write our messages for Sam on one of Ian and Susan’s lanterns. The cousins carried the lantern to the water’s edge, and then in silence the lantern was lit, was peacefully filled before being gently raised skywards and set free to float up, up and up. Our memories of this moment and particularly of Sam are etched in our hearts.

Outside the restaurant we bid Susan, Ian and Kate goodnight after a wonderful evening and then headed off home. Andy and I took a small detour into our local shop for a night cap. Beer for Andy and a five year old Thai Whiskey for me. A little sweet, probably required to counter the rawness but toward the bottom of a tumbler one begins to get into the taste! Unfortunately I can advise that three of these large whiskeys is a mistake. Andy is bantering with a local, they are engrossed in their conversation, filled with laughter, so I decided to listen in and quickly realised that the local only speaks one word of English to every fifty Thai words. But somehow this doesn’t appear to impede the flow of the conversation with Andy.

Wednesday 1 January

It has been a very slow and quiet morning, no surprise there really……..

1:00pm comes around fast as we pile into our van to begin our afternoon adventure to Patara Elephant Farm, about an hour’s drive south-west from Chiang Mai in the lush Hang Dong Valley. Ten of us are on board, Adrienne and Andy deciding elephant’s aren’t their thing. Jill gets us off to a great start with freshly made trays of take-away Fried Rice from Comedara Restaurant 193 Chareonrat Rd., across the road and along just a bit from Baan Orapin. It’s right next door to Tiddin 2013.

Our first stop isn’t in the program but there is a two week old baby elephant and another only one month old so a visit with them is a must. We are all very tentative as we approach the elephants. At first we merely observe from a safe distance, and then approach for our first touch with an outstretched arm. Lots of “oohs” and “ahhs” as the little babies approached, always near their much larger mothers. We are getting a little braver, crouching by the babies and bending forward with outstretched arm to feed the mothers. Little were we to know that only a short while later we would be in full-on encounter with our own elephant.

Back into the van and five minutes later we are getting out on top of the hill for our briefing to get our elephant experience underway. We are briefed on the wonderful work that is being done to rescue, rehabilitate and reintroduce elephants into a long and healthy family life.

We each donned a traditional Karen tribal shirt and now it’s time to be introduced to our elephant, to see if they accept us and if the bonding begins. Armed with a bucket brimming with bananas, what better way to make friends with an elephant? Susan is first to set off and bananas held aloft; she calls out her elephant’s name and strides towards her confidently. Susan calls out “bon” and her elephant raises her trunk for bananas to be stuffed in. The bonding has begun.

We each do the same and elephants are fast becoming our new friends. We now need to learn how to inspect the health of our elephant, which includes close examination of its dung with Emma being the reluctant volunteer, demonstrating with a large mound of dung. With the health inspection almost complete we dust our elephants off with a bunch of leaves; my elephant finishes the task by eating my duster. This process not only removes tiny pebbles, before we ride them, that can irritate the skin when we ride them later but also removes any parasites that might want to make the elephant’s hide their home.

We are now precariously making our way down a bumpy track toward the waterfall while trying to hold onto the bottom of the elephant’s ear repeating the command “ma, ma” to keep it walking along and hopefully not stepping on my foot in the process.
We made it and our elephants head straight into the pool at the foot of the cascades. Rory, Luke and Liam are having a ball sitting atop their elephants, mid-stream. Meanwhile I’m knee deep attempting to scrub down this huge creature with a slightly over-sized nail brush. Let me tell you there is one hell of a lot of elephant to scrub and the worst part is you can’t tell the difference between the bits you have done and the bits you haven’t.

Bikini clad and atop her elephant, Jill is terrified as it plunges into the deepest part of the pond. Freezing cold Jill quickly declares defeat, backs out, towels herself dry and puts on her warm clothes. Satisfied that she had controlled this situation. We are then invited to a group photo; with all our elephants behind, trunks locked and loaded they spray as if we were under a shower. Jill now soaked to the skin is none too impressed.

However, awaiting us is a beautiful spread of sweet treats has been laid in a grass thatched hut overlooking the waterfall. There are Thai delights such as sticky rice in banana leaf, black sticky rice, banana fritters, donut puffs filled with soya beans, coconut patties, pumpkin cakes and an array of fresh fruits.

Time now for the bare-back ride of our lives, up the hill then down the mountain road back to the spot in the forest where the baby elephants were. But first we have to actually get up onto that great big beast. Rory makes the scarper up the trunk method look easy, but for the rest of us it’s a less than elegant spectacle. It’s a long way down from up here mounted on the elephant’s neck. For such huge creatures I’m amazed how silently they walk along. When standing mesmerised by the one right in front of you, another one fast approaches from the rear with barely a sound and suddenly appears right by your side before you know it.

Our elephant procession soon approaches our destination point, not to say that a few of us didn’t have detours along the way, with my elephant frequently heading off track to rip half the forest out for a bit of take-away. I guess for an elephant walking along here it’s like letting a giant kid loose in a chocolate shop. Everyone, well almost everyone … Jill? …has bonded with their elephant. A final fond farewell to the babies and our own elephant, which one was it again? They all look alike you know!

Before dinner I want to check out Anusarn Market, Chang Khlan Rd., this will be my only opportunity as we head off to Koh Samui tomorrow. Andy, Liam, Tess and I are jammed into a Tuk-Tuk and thankfully we soon arrive at the market, it’s in the next block south of the Night Bazaar.

The centre of this enclosed market houses multiple stall holders selling all the usual wares: bags; jewellery; clothing; and of course ornamental elephants of all sizes. However, surrounding these stalls is an array of restaurants, specialising in seafood alongside a dry produce market along another section.

The seafood restaurants are enticing with the aroma of fresh seafood tossed onto charcoals grills filling the air. The selection of seafood on ice display large river prawns; crabs; and an assortment of fresh fish. A cabinet even has grilled ducks and chickens. While the dried produce market is selling everything from candied fruits and nuts to dried mushrooms and chillies.

We are all pretty tired after our elephant expedition on New Year’s Day, so a return to Mamory Delicious is an easy and safe decision for dinner. It’s definitely a ‘sharing night’ tonight with a table soon laden with:

•    Deep Fried battered prawns
•    Roti rolled with chicken, beans and carrot
•    Pork Massaman Curry – Adrienne took a particular liking to the potatoes
•    Penang Chicken Curry – Susan is after more Roti to mop up the mild coconut based curry
•    Fried whole fish with Sweet and Sour
•    Prawn Fried Rice
•    Grilled Chicken in lemon sauce

Pretty much every cuisine that comes to mind is represented on this extensive menu. In fact reading the menu is a bit like the commentary to the entry of the athletes at the Olympic Games, “yes, here comes France with Escargots carrying the national flag, Italy has a big team specialising in Pizza and Pasta and is that Switzerland? Yes, it’s Cheese Fondue that I can see, here comes Weiner Schnitzel proudly flying the Austrian flag, ah of course, Hungarian Goulash and good to see Mexico with a small Taco representation but here comes the home team, Thailand and just look at the size of their team, they have got to be the special for today”

Thursday 2 January

Farewell to Chiang Mai, but not before sorn-taa-ou goes in and out of who knows where to drop off a fellow passenger and then after almost a complete lap around the city we take the turn towards the airport, can’t say we aren’t getting our money’s worth on this last trip. But will we make our flight!?

A very sad farewell to Andy, Emma and Luke at the airport. We are sad saying “good-bye” to our holiday buddies and they are sad because they’re not coming to Koh Samui!

Bophut, Koh Samui, Thailand,

Koh Samui airport is just as I remember it in the mid-90s. An open air terminal building with a grass thatched roof. A fleet of open-sided tram like vehicles transport us the short distance from our aircraft to the terminal building. Nothing has changed in almost twenty years.

It doesn’t take long to arrive in Bophut, a quaint Fisherman’s Village on the north of the island, dotted with great restaurants and bars and a strip of fancy Resorts along the beachfront. We turn into Peace Resort, 178 Moo 1, Bophut Beach, and it’s beyond our expectations. After a warm welcome in the lovely open-air lobby we settle into our neighbouring bungalows, nestled in lush gardens. We are ideally positioned in the first row of bungalows just back from the pool with its adjacent restaurant and bar overlooking the beach. Seven nights here will be very easy to take.

It’s already 4:00pm so a quick swim and stroll along the beach seems in order. The pool is a little chilly at first, but then again it’s mid-winter here, although the maximum daily temperature is still just over 300 C. Now for that lovely late afternoon stroll along the beach. Well, what a shock we were in for. First of all the sand is quite coarse and after the obvious advantages of exfoliation on their feet Tess and Jill yelp believing that raw skin is now being exposed as they hobble along. To add to our plight, the course sand doesn’t form a solid base underfoot, it’s a bit like walking in quicksand, with the dubious bonus of exfoliation. This is not good for my arthritic knees! After walking as far as we could struggle and as far as Liam could carry Tess, we cut up to Moo 1/Bophut Beach Road, the main street of Fisherman’s Village, Bophut. It’s lined with restaurants, bars and boutique/tat shops. Plenty of choice here.

We spotted La Cabanon restaurant, one of the most popular and without having done a complete reckie of the town we think it’s going to be the best choice for dinner tonight. Adrienne, Susan and Ian are happy to go along with this recommendation.

At La Cabanon Restaurant, 88/7 Moo 1, Fisherman’s Village, we have the option of sitting down on the beach or inside. No one is on the beach so we chose inside, much to Rory’s horror. However the beachside tables soon fill and maybe we should have gone there (Rory: “I told you do!”). The waiter distributes old LP record album covers to each of us and inside is the record itself with the drinks list stuck onto it. Very quirky. A new experience is about to unfold this evening, a ‘hybrid night’, that’s ‘sharing’ starters but ‘non-sharing’ main courses. The prawns look fantastic, so they become the shared starters:

•    Gambas Flambees au pastis and
•    Gambas Grillees

The prawns are succulent and smoky. Cooked so well that the crispy shell, legs and tail is a crunchy taste sensation as well.

My main course is Filet de Poisson, a moist fillet of fish perfectly BBQ’ed. Jill has gone for what turns out to be a surprise package ‘Kebab aux 3 viandes’. Grilled Kebabs of chicken, lamb and pork off their skewers served in a crème freche paprika sauce within a bundled package of flat bread. Just as good was the crisp based Parma Pizza with plentiful slices of Parma ham and crumbled feta.

La Cabana was a little pricey, we might still be in Chiang Mai mode, however the quality and service was excellent.

Friday 3 January

After a sleep in and late buffet breakfast, the order of the day is going to be chill out by the pool, with a lunch interruption of course. Speaking of lunch, a vivid memory of my previous visit to Koh Samui was locals charcoal grilling chicken satays and corn on the cob on the beach. A quick check and yep, there they are. Chicken Satays with sweet chilli sauce and corn cobs all round. The beach ‘kitchen’ has advanced somewhat though since ‘90s, with the set up now housed in a kayak and the menu extending to Papaya Salad for example. Can’t wait for lunch tomorrow.

There is a ‘Friday Walking Street’ in Bophut so before dinner we check it out. These are the standard stalls selling the usual assortment of tat, jewellery, scarves, clothing, elephants, Buddhas, Thai boxing shorts, European football shirts and did I mention elephants and Buddhas? However by far the best bit was the range of aromas filling the air from multiple smoky charcoal grills along both sides of the street. An amazing range of foods on offer, Pork Ribs, Spatchcocked/Butterflyed Duck, Grasshoppers, Prawn Skewers, Squid, Grasshoppers, Crickets, Chicken Satays, Beef Steaks, Spatchcocked Chicken, Chilli Fish Stew and Sun Dried Fish.

The aromas shifted as we walked down the street, all characterised by smoky charcoal. I was very tempted to pick and feast through the market but Jill was concerned the turnover at each stall wasn’t high, unlike the beach BBQ Kayak.

Apart from chilling by the pool, the afternoon was all about relaxing massages in the cute open-air hut adjacent to the pool. Jill and I lined up for a Thai oil massage at 3:00pm followed by Liam, Tess and Rory at 4:00pm. Rory had a manicure and pedicure thrown in, given that they had finished massaging his petit body with time to spare.

So for dinner we settled on Smile House Restaurant, 93 Moo 1, Fisherman’s Village. The place is packed, which is a good sign, but the wait for our meals could be lengthy we are advised, but that turned out not to be the case. Phew! Getting the wine that we wanted was a right old kerfuffle with each wine we ordered being out of stock. I attempted bartering on the price of their wine, that actually was available, but the waiter wasn’t having a bar of it. Instead he made a clever call by taking me behind the bar to look in the wine fridge to see what they had. Sauvignon Blanc is not to our taste and the bar fridge was stocked with….. Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and a Thai White. Hmmm, can I try the Thai White please? It’s brilliant, clean on the palate, with a crisp dry finish (Naga Siam White 2011, a blend of Chenin Blanc and Colombard). We’re ‘sharing’ tonight at one end of the table:

•    Gai Hor Bai Toey, deep fried Chicken in Pandanus Leaves served with Dark Soy Sesame Sauce
•    Prawn Phad Thai, served encased in a thin crispy omelette
•    Phed Makham, grilled duck breast with tamarind sauce and young kale
•    Kaow Soi Gai, chicken in yellow curry on cooked fried noodles served with lime, shallot and chilli paste
•    The Massaman Curry had run out, so a Red Chicken curry was our replacement.

All the dishes were fragrant and mildly spiced however with the exception of the prawns the meats were overcooked and a little dry. I concluded that the meats had been cooked separately from the dish itself and only added together just prior to serving, perhaps understandable in a restaurant of this size. Still, a very pleasant night under the stars with a perfectly edible meal and washed down with the discovery of Thai ‘Naga Siam White’.

Saturday 4 January

A very productive poolside morning. We decided to get proactive for upcoming dinners. We not only selected the venues but immediately made bookings to confirm tables for 8 at 8 over the 3 nights. Not an easy feat. Cafe69 tonight, The Shack tomorrow night and the Happy Elephant on Tuesday night for Liam and Rory’s birthdays. Just need to sort out Monday and our last night, Wednesday. Makes you wonder if this isn’t the best approach as soon as you arrive at your destination. Sort out the restaurants you want to go to and make some bookings. Very organised I know takes away the daily worry of which restaurant tonight. Knowing you can always change a booking if you make a discovery while out and about.

After all that effort a relaxing poolside massage is booked in for this afternoon. All that work has created an appetite for a bit of lunch from the beach ‘kitchen’, Satays and a green Papaya Salad.

Cafe 69, 157/52 Bophut Avenue Apartment, the main road running west out of the village, just before you get to Anantara Resort on the opposite side, among a non-descript collection of shops. However Café 69 is anything but non-descript. How can one describe the decor? How about funky Thai kitch meets ‘70s disco. Just check out the glittering silver sequined table-cloths, they are so fab that Susan and Ian want to know where to buy them. Vivian, the owner, chef, host, (Thai Boy), designer and creative mind behind Café 69 greets us at the door with a warm beaming smile and tells us he has only been cooking for two years. He proudly describes the two blackboard special lists, Starters and Mains. All of the recipes coming from his creative self. We pretty much order almost everything off both boards. For starters we chose:

•    Papaya Soft Shell Crab Salad Rolls
•    Pad Thai Spring Rolls
•    Duck Red Curry Dumplings
•    And Salmon Skewers, for Rory’s main course, in a mild curry

For Mains we might have got a bit carried away but we managed to eat it all, when we ordered:

•    Chicken leg stuffed Salted Egg Yolk with Penang Curry Sauce
•    Whole Snapper with Green Curry Sauce and Sweet Mango
•    Smoked Duck Red Curry with lychees and grapes
•    Beef slow cooked for 8 hours, with chillies and fresh herbs
•    And off the regular menu a Green Chicken Curry

All of the dishes were amazingly rich and flavoursome with a sweet twist from the addition of fresh fruits in some dishes and all beautifully presented. The highlights for us from our extensive feast were without doubt the:

•    Duck Red Curry Dumplings quizicly presented on old style kitchen scales
•    And the beautifully smoky pink Duck Red Curry.

The winner tonight was the duck red curry. Oh, and actually we were the real winners!

Sunday 5 January

On an early morning walk into the Fisherman’s Village we experience far less crowded streets than during the evening. Compared with places like Chiang Mai it’s far from crowded at anytime here, even Friday Walking Street.

The main thoroughfare through the village has transformed into a calm avenue, lined with cafes, restaurants and bars interspersed with the requisite massage shops and shops selling tat to tourists, plus the occasional boutique worth stepping into to browse for that something special. Opposite the old rickety pier jutting out from the shoreline is Karma Sutra Cafe. A very cool and French influenced cafe to stop, chill and people watch. The coffee in our lattes has a very nice flavour but just not strong enough, oh well a double shot next time. Back to people watching and here comes Ian who settles in for a chat and joins in the people watching.

The next person I spot is a man walking into the cafe laden with bottles of wine. A bottle of orange coloured Rose, Jill’s favourite, catches my eye. He advises that the French wine maker from the Rhone Valley is here right now selling her wines to the cafe owner. It would be downright rude if we each didn’t order a glass of her Rosé, “monsieur, trois Rosé, sil vous plait”. It’s fantastic, oh sorry, “c’est fantastique”. Clean and dry on the palate with light fruit and that opaque orange colour that Jill loves in a Rosé.

Continuing our people watching, we spot the wine maker departing and congratulate her on such a “très magnifique” drop. She thanks us very much, only to say we aren’t drinking her wine but the house Rosé! “C’est la vie”.

Dinner tonight was at The Shack, 88/3 Moo 1, Fisherman’s Village. The Shack specialises in Steaks, Ribs and Burgers flame grilled on the BBQ out the front on the street. So what did I order? Chicken! Well, far too often I’m disappointed with an over-cooked and tasteless steak, so surely I can’t go too far wrong side ordering a marinated chicken with Jill also offering to share her Rib Eye Steak. I am drooling at the thought of that moist, smoky chicken, charcoal grilled on the bone. I’ve got to be on a winner here. How wrong could I be? The Rib Eye Steaks and the T-Bone at our table were moist, flavoursome, tender and cooked to perfection. On the contrary my half marinated chicken turned out to be a dry, over-cooked and tasteless chicken breast. When will I learn? When in a steak joint, order steak! Luckily all wasn’t lost as we’d ordered Pork Ribs to share as a starter and they were tender, smoky and sticky morsels. The general consensus of The Shack? Fantastic!

Monday 6 January

Up early for our 7:45am pick up and a day of adventure at Ang Thong Marine National Park. A thirty minute van transfer to the port of Na Thon and we are on board and on our way. Our first anchor point at Ang Thong is within the Emerald Sea, also called the inner sea, on Ko Wua Talap. On the beach Rory and I team up and along with a fleet of others set off kayaking beside limestone cliffs rising straight from the sea. Paddling in and out of caves and crevices is fantastic fun in this beautiful part of the world. On the beach we set off climbing a steep but relatively short series of ladder-like steps for a wonderful view over a minty green large lake, Mae Ko, in the middle of the island. Back on board for lunch then a drop off on Ko Wua Talap with options of snorkelling, lazing on the beach or hiking up to one of the most stunning vistas in all of Thailand. What an arduous hike it turned out to be. An extremely steep incline up sharp outcrops of limestone, that were pretending to be the path, with nothing but ropes as railings to help pull yourself up and over some of the rockier outcrops. After about a forty minute slog we’ve reached the 350 metre mark and out of time to push on to the 450 metre peak, oh what a shame …! The view is well worth it, a sublime outlook over jagged islands seemingly floating like lily-pads in a turquoise pond. While catching our breath we became emersed in a somewhat surreal moment when we were joined by a fellow traveller. A Moroccan man from Casablanca, who engaged Jill in conversation in French with Adrienne joining in from time to time in Spanish. All of this going on while standing on a peak in Thailand!

The climb back down, though far less strenuous, was much hairier, one slip and it wasn’t simply a grazed shin but potential multiple fractures. At times going backwards over steep rocks holding tightly to ropes was akin to absailing. Back on the beach and all we could do was get our shoes off and flop in the sea to refresh. What a hike, the most strenuous short hike I’ve ever done and well worth every bit of it.

There are a range of tour options to choose from and the basic differentiators from what we observed come down to the type of vessel and the format for lunch, otherwise they all basically visit the same spots and do the same things. I think the choice of vessel is the major differentiator among the various tours. We travelled on a large traditional vessel, this translates to more people, and a trip of about 1.5 hours each way and the need to be long-tail boats to get us to and from the beaches. While some of the more modern large boats that I spotted had plenty of seats and lots of shade but the more traditional vessel have neither. I did notice quite a few smaller, fully shaded modern vessels with large outboard engines. Apart from cutting the journey time to about 50 minutes each way, these vessels were able to back right up to the beach for passengers to disembark directly without the need for long tail boats. The lunch option for us was a more than adequate, an on-board buffet, while other tours had the same or on land buffets or picnics.

Pre-dinner drinks tonight are at the very smart beach front H-Bar in the Hansard Resort. It’s easy to find, keep walking west out of Fisherman’s Village on the beachside road and it’s the last of the flash hotels/resorts before the road ends, immediately before Anantara Resort. You can’t miss the H-Bar at night as the bar stools glow like columns of orange and grey marble. Very impressive. It’s Happy Hour with drinks all round to farewell Susan and Ian who head back home to England early tomorrow morning. If you are into simple cocktails then you can’t go past the Whiskey Sour, while the others might argue that the Cosmopolitans were pretty damn good. After such wonderful times its sad saying goodbye to Susan and Ian.

Anyway, now for dinner! Ironically after spending some hours today on an open boat we have chosen Shades Restaurant for our dining pleasure tonight, 99/1 Moo 1, Fisherman’s Village. We are led down onto the beach to our own grass roofed hut. The second surreal moment of the day occurs when here with our feet in the sand on Koh Samui, Liam, Tess and Rory order Indian Curries! Butter Chicken, Chicken Korma, Saffron Pilaf Rice and Nan. All reportedly not too bad, given we are a world away from Mumbai. Jill, Adrienne and I saw the seafood on ice beside the charcoal BBQ grill on the street out the front, so with a nod to The Shack we go for a Surf-n-Turf platter for three. Ribs, Prawns, Calamari, Crab, Sirloin Fillet, and Pork Fillet. The potential is all there however it’s unfortunately all been overcooked with the result of the flavoursome juices disappearing leaving behind pretty dry representations of their former selves. The shell of the crab however has protected its sweet, delicate meat. Overall very disappointing and mediocre. Hmmm, perhaps an Indian curry here on the beach wasn’t such a surreal choice after all.

Tuesday 7 January

“Happy Birthdays Boys” Liam is 21 today and Rory 12. A few presents at breakfast to get the celebrations underway, topped off with sweet little birthday cakes from the kitchen with the staff all around singing a Thai rhythm ‘Happy Birthday’. Liam and Rory have set out their itinerary for the day:

•    Gym
•    Lunch
•    Massage
•    Lots of pool in between
•    Pre dinner Birthday drinks on the verandah of our Bungalow
•    Dinner
•    Lanterns on the beach

It’s going to be a pretty full on day, in a chilled Koh Samui sort of way.

With the boys heading off together for a gym session just along  Bophut Avenue Apartment, Jill, Tess and I opt for a far less energetic shady poolside session. To accommodate gym sessions, pool sessions and massages we’ve ended up having staggered lunches but as a treat we have ordered poolside lunches from the Peace Resort’s Sea Wrap Restaurant. Jill and I choosing to share Rice Paper Rolls with Smoked Duck Breast, Caramelised Onion and Cucumber and a Rare Seared Tuna Loin Burger with Roasted Tomato, Kalamata Olives, Grain Mustard and Capers Mayonnaise. Absolutely sensational. I’ll be attempting to pull that burger together back home. The little Birthday Cakes are surprisingly light and sweet, a perfect match for Iced Coffees mid-afternoon.

Some pre-dinner drinks on our garden setting verandah to toast the boys birthday then we set off to the Happy Elephant Restaurant, 78/1 Moo 1, Fisherman’s Village. Our beach front table on the terrace is made ready and I think we are set for a great night. This is definitely a ‘sharing night’, although Rory is keen for a Burger and happy to share Starters. This meal turned out to be our best in Bophut, if not the best during this Thailand holiday. For Starters we shared:

•    Lemongrass Skewers threaded will a grilled Sea Scallop and a piece of rare Saka Tuna, served with lime chill and a simple salad of grated raw cabbage and carrot
•    Vietnamese style fresh Spring Rolls packed with Laab Gai (minced chicken, dried chilli and ground toasted rice). Each one a package bursting with fresh flavours
•    Bruschetta Trio: Mushroom; feta and black olive; and smoked salmon. All three gone in a flash.

Then our brilliant Main Courses:

•    Braised Lamb Shark in creamy Massaman Curry, the highlight dish of the evening. Adrienne and I agree we will both be cooking this back home
•    The whole Red Snapper with Tamarind Sauce come in a close second behind the Lamb Shank. The Thais have a special knack of being able to deep fry a whole fish without it being oily at all. The skin crisps up, sealing in the moisture of the snapper’s plump white flesh. The subtle flavours of the tamarind sauce complimented the snapper perfectly
•    King Prawns straight from the BBQ charcoal grill were smoky and served with a light garlic and pepper Sauce
•    And a Papaya Salad with grilled marinated chicken. Actually this was the only dish that didn’t thrill our taste buds. They chose chunks of ripe papaya rather that shredded green papaya and it lacked zing; maybe it just needed a big squeeze of lime juice.

We could hear singing of the Thai rhythmic ‘Happy Birthday’ approaching. Liam and Rory are each presented with candles burning on slices of Birthday Cheesecake, the plates duly inscribed in chocolate.

But our night of birthday celebration was far from over. Down the stairs and onto the beach we went armed with our Chiang Mai lanterns to light and send sky ward. We managed to get 11 alight and floating away, with only 1 ending up in flames. This excitement has given us our second wind so we agree a night cap at Coconut Bar was in order. Along the street a bit and onto the beach which is Coconut Bar with its bean bags, little tables and candle lanterns arranged on the beach with cool music beating out to create a great atmosphere. We are shown to our own Moroccan style posted Cabana, complete with drapes and a large cushioned platform. What a great birthday celebration and what a way to end our night.

Wednesday 8 January

We are up earlier than usual and decide to visit the twelve metre high golden seated Big Buddha, Wat Phra Yai, sits on a small rocky island connected to the mainland by a short causeway. The Big Buddha statue was only buit in 1972 and it’s just a few kilometres north of the airport, in fact right under the flight path in Koh Samui’s north-eastern corner.

About two hundred metres before driving onto the causeway, back along Big Buddah Rd., just near the Bang Pak Pier, is a brilliant fresh produce, mainly seafood, local market. Stall after stall selling shiny fish, mussels, clams, squid and crabs, just unloaded from the fishing boats bobbing at the water’s edge out the back. In another aisle there are tanks holding live frogs and live eels. Elsewhere rows of crisp green leafed vegetables and herbs appear to be flowing over their stalls, while mounds of curry paste abound in yet another stall.

For the last night of this memorable holiday a very groovy shop owner tells Jill about a little family run restaurant, The Hut Cafe, right at the eastern end of Moo 1 as you leave the Fisherman’s Village. Wonderful family hospitality abounded and the owner was run off his feet and exhausted by the end of a busy night and fantastic food. The incredible service was surpassed by the brilliant food.

•    Panaeng Curry (how many ways do they spell it? Phanaeng, Panang and Penang!). A creamy coconut based blend of eggplant with chicken, green beans and Thai Basil. Simply wonderful
•    Prawn Pad Thai, by far the best example of this classic dish. Crunchy bean sprouts and crushed peanuts complemented the moist prawns tossed through flat rice noodles with streaks of fluffy omelette
•    Deep fried Whole Fish, topped with fresh tomatoes, spring onions and luscious chunks of pineapple with a sweet and sour dressing. Brilliant!

Our fantastic dinner ended on a very sad note as we bid farewell to Adrienne. We depart tomorrow for home and Adrienne heads off on a further leg of this holiday to Singapore. Adrienne has been with us right from the start, and I mean right from the conception of this extended family holiday in Laos and Thailand.

There was something both surreal and appropriate as we sped off to our hotel in the most disco of all disco taxis.

Thursday 9 January

A pretty mundane morning, compared with our experiences over the last few weeks. However, Jill was keen to have a swim in the sea before breakfast on our last morning. Yet again a buffet breakfast overlooking the beach followed. Then Jill and I chose a swim and last laze by the pool.

Rory had a bit of an existential criss while in the pool, asking “why do we have to leave?” “Because all good things have to come to an end”. “But my life is good and it doesn’t …….oh …..”.

As we headed back to our bungalow for the demoralising process of packing, there, somewhat perplexed by our relaxed attitude and approach to the task at hand, were Liam and Tess all packed and dressed, ready for the airport! Even though their flight was a couple of hours after ours.

There is the sinking realisation that this spectacular adventure has come to an end. However the uplifting moment comes with our reflections on just how fantastic it has all been. Our extended family has come together like never before. We have enjoyed every moment of being together and we are already planning the next adventure.

Stay tuned ….