On Thursday, 9th August, I attended the first of five sessions to learn ‘how to deal’ with social media. The course, Content Compass Bootcamp, is run by the amazing Joey Clarkson, whose energy and versatility encouraged us to participate fully in every exercise she set. We were given monthly planner sheets and post planner sheets and a veritable wealth of information to help us up our social media presence and build confidence in our brand, product, writing project. . . or whatever it is we are working on or towards.
Putting into practice what I’d learnt, I uploaded a video to Instagram a couple of days ago. It was about those pesky words we writers use too often. I was searching my WIP for the word ‘that’, which I know is a horrible word, and I use it too often. I tend to write things like:
She thought that he was staring at her. The word that is totally unnecessary. She thought he was staring at her is sufficient and reads much better.
I don’t know why I do it, but I found over 1000 ‘thats’ in my 83,000 word manuscript.
The video went out to the public as a reel, and to my astonishment, it was watched (to date) over 2,000 times, and I gained 30+ followers in twenty-four hours. Which is amazing. The thing is, I know I have to keep this up and that is where the Planner Sheet and the Post Planner Sheet come in handy. I now have to post regular content to social media at least three times a week. This blog post is will be my second post for this week and I have to do at least one more before Sunday. . .Yikes! I think the best way is to make videos and prepare content in advance which I’m trying to do. This last week was a little difficult because I was on Nonna duties, and my days were taken up with the grandchildren, which of course was a pleasure, but left me less time than usual to get organised. But, I’m making excuses!
Gotta dash now. . . I have to make a video, take a photo and write some content before I head off for a pedicure at eleven. Well, you have to keep things in perspective don’t you?
I’ve had a busy month so far and that’s because I’ve been doing a lot of writing. I’m actually well into re-writing my debut novel but more about that another time. Not quite ready to share yet.
Writers spend a great deal of time sitting at their desks, either on their computers or with a notebook, at home or in cafés. Wherever they choose to write they are probably sitting down. I’m lucky, I have a writing space on the landing in our cottage and it’s perfect. A desk, bookcases, printer etc., and a lovely view to the farm across the road. But what do I do when I’m not sitting writing?
This year I made a conscious decision to get out and about more. Until last August we had the dear dog, Jpeg, which meant I went out every day for a walk at least once and often twice. Without the dog I have looked for other forms of exercise. I do walk without the dog and also do quite a lot of online fitness workouts. But, two weeks ago I took the plunge and joined a Friday morning silent disco run by the extraordinary Angie Porter (this is her facebook page). She is a vibrant member of the local community and on Instagram she describes herself as:
❤️ 🎨 painter 👩🎨 writer ✍️ performer 🎤🎭palm tree lover 🌴 🌴 🌴teacher and joy freak 🤩 📽 ☀️
I didn’t know what to expect as I’ve never been to a silent disco before (my kids thought I’d lost the plot) I absolutely loved it. You couldn’t get further away from writing at a desk. I found it exhilarating. I came back full of energy and raring to get on with the day. I’ve now been three times and the last time I went, which was yesterday, the weather was atrocious but we carried on anyway – it takes place outside under a large open sided covered area at The Grow Slow Nursery and The Packhorse Cafe so we didn’t get soaked. We had a ball. The photos below were taken on Friday 7th July. Lovely women. We are dancing sisters.
The silent disco is advertised as GET UP AND DANCE. You do your own thing or dance along with others. It’s energetic, fun and all the other women taking part are inspiring, friendly and supportive. A new community into which I’ve been welcomed with open dancing arms. LOVE IT It is women only by the way.
I’ll be posting a Newsletter soon, so those of you who have signed up to receive one, look out for that. Sorry it’s all been a bit erratic lately but that’s life folks!
You can watch me/us dancing on the following links:
Last night I joined a radio programme on BBC Five Live to talk about, ‘How to deal with grief when you lose a child in sudden/unjustified/ inexplicable circumstances’. You can hear it by clicking on this link. BBC Five Live Stephen Nolan The interviews begin around 12.02.
Colin Knox, father of Rob Knox the young actor from Harry Potter who was fatally stabbed in 2008 was also on the programme. We talked about the loss of our sons and how we’ve coped with grief over the years. I said that writing helped me a great deal and I remembered that I had posted a blog about this in January 2022. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can read it by clicking on this link: Writing to Someone You Have Lost
There are many other ways of coping with grief and writing about it isn’t for everyone. Each person’s loss and grief is different. But give yourself time and allow yourself to grieve in the way you need.
HOW TO HEAL
Courage is needed open your heart and share your words with friends small steps at first accept that proffered hand repair takes time grasp each stage
In the end grief will diminish though it will never leave out of the haze the light will emerge night always passes
Siem Reap was the last place we visited on our SE Asia trip. We took a taxi from our hotel in Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. I had read somewhere that this trip was not for the fainthearted but I figured it couldn’t be that bad. It might seem rather decadent to take a taxi but the cost for a 6 hour trip was only 120 American dollars. It should have been 90 but we were travelling on Saturday 15th April which happened to be the middle day of three days celebration for the Cambodian New Year. We didn’t do our research! This event was massive and everyone (except us) became involved in the activity of firing enormous water guns, or hoses at passers by, either on foot, tuk tuk or moped. They gave everyone a good shot of water and a dowsing of flour. I have not got to the bottom of this tradition, but if I ever find out I’ll let you know. The whole thing escalated as the day went on and by the evening it was a full blown battle. Geoff and I kept our sightseeing to the daytime, when all the revellers were sleeping. There was not much evidence of over-consumption of alcohol, and we only saw the riot police once so it was an orderly event on the whole. Nobody got hurt — they only got wet and sticky.
Our taxi driver, Vanay, was friendly and happy. He spoke very little English but nodded and smiled at everything we said. He had two mobile telephones that constantly pinged and beeped. He spoke on the phone — not hands free — and sent several text messages, all whilst driving along a two-lane main road at furious speed, weaving in and out of the traffic, overtaking cars, buses, bicycles and mopeds and honking his horn every single time he passed the latter of these. It was hair raising and nerve wracking. The trip was 342 km and for every single one of those kilometres my heart was in my mouth. The sad thing about the journey was the amount of plastic rubbish we witnessed on the sides of the road, the animals grazing amongst the empty bottles and bags. I don’t think there was even a 100 metre stretch that was clear of it. Come on Cambodia . . . sort this out if you can. We made a couple of stops on the way. The first one was for Vanay to hose down the car, for no apparent reason, it didn’t seem dirty. We thought he was stopping for fuel but no. ‘Would madam like the toilet?’ he grinned. I declined as we’d only been on the road half an hour and had not even left the outskirts of Phnom Penh! The second stop was at a popular roadside cafe/shop/toilet area, which was nothing like a UK motorway services except for the tat they had for sale there, hats, plastic toys, cheap toiletries etc., you know the sort of thing I mean. There were some impressive dragon fruit though, for less than a pound (5000 riel). I found the money very confusing and couldn’t get used to spending thousands or millions on something that in sterling was very little money. At the the third stop, Vanay unloaded a large box from the boot of the car and passed it to an ‘associate’ who had arrived by moped, not sure what he was delivering but the mind boggles. There was more room for our luggage after that stop. At the last stop he delivered another package in a plastic bag, which had been nestled on the floor of the car beside him, in the front. I thought it was his lunch but obviously not. A young boy and girl came up beside our taxi on their moped, money exchanged hands and then they were given the package. Hmmm… interesting.
Siem Reap was buzzing with New Year activities as we drove into the city. The taxi was sprayed with water from hoses and everyone ran about the streets excited and happy to be soaked or soak others. We were glad to reach the haven of our hotel, the Chateau d’Angkor La Residence. Our room was again a suite with kitchenette and sitting room. There was even a washing machine so I was able to do a wash, which dried on our balcony in no time. It was still very hot so we took a swim before eating in the hotel dining room. We did this each night while staying here, mainly to avoid the party goers in the streets. It was fun to watch them from the safely of the hotel balcony. I thought I had captured some video of the water fights but sadly they’re all rubbish. You’ll have to use your imagination. Sorry. Lots of noise, water, fun and laughter. . .
One morning at the hotel we were visited by a group of dancers. They told the story of a young deer being caught by hunters. That’s about all I can tell you. Guests and staff at the hotel threw money at them which they collected in baskets and naturally we joined in throwing notes of thousands of riel (it was all monopoly money to me). I noticed that the staff were throwing HUNDREDS of notes at them, great wads at a time, how generous I thought. However, later that day when we walked to the museum there were people selling wads of notes, 10,000 riel (£2) I think they were. It was obviously some kind of tradition to have fake money to bandy about the place. ‘I hope the dancers at the hotel realise that the money we threw at them was real riel!’ I said to Geoff.
We wanted to take a car to Angkor Wat but were advised not to do this until Monday when the festival would be over. So on Sunday we visited the museum, a walk away from our hotel. Air conditioned and very well set out, we walked around for a couple of hours looking at various exhibits and watching short films about the history of Cambodia, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat and Thom Wat. Geoff was far more interested in it all than I was, I’m ashamed to say, it all left me rather cold. I couldn’t get enthusiastic at all. Perhaps I would be more excited about visiting the actual sites.
We arranged to leave the hotel at 7.30 on the morning, for our visit to the temples. ‘The earlier the better,’ said the receptionist. Our driver and guide, Khoshal, took us first to buy tickets from the Angkor Wat ticket office located in the city, they took our photographs and handed us our personalised passes for, I think, five temples. It was a short drive to Angkor Wat and the receptionist was absolutely right to tell us to leave early. It was already heaving with people in the car park and by the time we left, two hours later, you couldn’t put a pin between the visitors or the parked vehicles. The lovely Khoshal, parked up and waited for us.
We had to walk through a rather large commercial area with a great deal of stalls selling souvenirs as well as food and drinks, rather as one is forced to walk through duty free at any airport before you can find a place to just sit and wait to board the plane. We didn’t stop at this point but just followed other people who appeared to be heading in the right direction for the temple of Angkor Wat. It was an impressive sight, reached by walking along a causeway over the man made lake that surrounded the temple, like a moat. It is impossible to imagine how many people (slaves?) it took to build this huge, extraordinary monument. Although it has been restored to some extent, the pathways, steps and corridors were in places precarious. We walked from one side to the other and then all the way around. It was interesting to see that only a few people ventured around to the rear of the building. We were almost alone, compared to the front which was as packed as Piccadilly Circus on a Saturday night.
There was some kind of community exhibition on, we couldn’t quite work out what is was all about, but there were thousands of small hearts on sticks stuck in the ground like fields of flowers and also pinned on strings and hanging on square frames. Quite a sight to see. I think they were all made by school children.
From Angkor Wat we went to Angkor Thom, which as one time was the largest city in the world. It has many gateways, causeways and temples, the most well known being Bayon. The driver parked up just opposite the Bayon temple and waited for us. I was flagging in the heat but Geoff was keen to look all around. There had been some kind of festival there the night before and they were dismantling the ‘scenery’. It was odd to see the golden polystyrene Buddah, rocks and temple parts being loaded onto the back of a truck. The remnants of the flowers were wonderful.
We stopped at one more small temple before visitingTa Prohm, the temple of the trees, which was to be our final stop of the day. This, I found most impressive. We were dropped at the West Gate and Khoshal said he would meet us at the East Gate, we just had to walk straight through, which took us about an hour. The trees have grown through the ancient walls and are now make up an intricate part of the architecture. The most famous one was almost impossible to photograph without a tourist posing in front of it, but we did our best.
I’m truly glad we went to Angkor Wat and all the other temples, but I think I prefer more modern history and visiting places where I can imagine how people lived and I just cannot relate to these ancient times, although I can when it comes to ancient Roman history. Is that because there are so many films about Rome and not about Cambodia?
This concludes my posts about our trip to SE Asia, except to say that I found the money very confusing indeed. We flew back to Bangkok where we had a one night stay before flying back to the UK. We had no baht left when we reached the hotel and Geoff had some work to do. I left him and went down to the hotel shop to buy milk, teabags and a few snacks to see us through. I had forgotten they didn’t take cards in the shop. They showed me to the cash machine outside and I promptly withdrew 10,000 baht thinking it was about £50. Oh dear me. Geoff was slightly horrified when I told him. ‘You’ve just drawn about £250 from the bank and we’re not even here for 24 hours!’ he said. Oh well. . . next time he can go for the milk and teabags. 😂
We flew from Vientiane to Phnom Penh with Vietnam Airlines. Both The Man and I were a little anxious. It’s our ages I think and remembering the flying reputation Vietnam had in the past (very old Russian transport planes), but, it was a brilliant flight. The aeroplane was very modern, the flight attendants pleasant and smiling, the women elegant and the men smart and pleasing. I sound like an old lady but honestly they were so lovely and attentive. I’m not a great flyer but they made me feel quite relaxed. The flight was short, only an hour and five minutes but they still managed to serve us an in flight meal which was not at all bad; a meat roll, fruit, cup of tea etc.,
Arrival at Phnom Penh airport went much smoother that I could have thought. We managed to get some dollars from Bangkok airport so the immigration was quicker than Luang Prabang. It was more organised in any case. We filled in the little immigration document on board the plane, waited in line for them to check everything. They took our passports at one window and they were passed along for us to pay and collect. A line of officials all sitting down behind a long glass barrier. They worked like a conveyor belt handing the passports from one to the next until they arrived at the end of the line. It took less than five minutes I think. It was a big relief after the kerfuffle at Laos.
I had booked a taxi through Booking.com to collect us and I wasn’t too sure if it was going to work but. . . there by the exit was a man with a sign saying Ninette Hartley in bold letters. A miracle. The place was very busy but our driver helped us through arrivals and we were soon in an air conditioned car heading for the centre of Phnom Penh. Just to mention here that booking through booking.com meant that the car was paid for from my card and we didn’t have to mess about looking for cash. I think Geoff gave the driver a tip anyway.
I have absolutely no idea what I expected Phnom Penh to offer me. The drive from the airport took us through the suburbs and into the city. The landscape was very flat. No hills or mountains. The streets were busy with heavy traffic; the usual million mopeds carrying more than two people but at least they were wearing helmets this time. There were more shop fronts and fewer street sellers. The area of the city which is for the government and embassy buildings etc., had wide boulevard type roads with flower beds, grass and walkways. Most buildings sat behind attractive high walls and iron gates. It didn’t feel like a communist country, although what I expect that to be I’m not really sure.
A few shots of Phnom Penh. The Mekong River in the middle.
Our hotel entrance was just one door set in a high wall. There was a man in a wooden booth with glass windows checking to see who was entering . As we went through the door we were transported from a busy, street into a complete oasis. We had to walk past the swimming pool to get to the hotel lobby and it was just like walking through a clearing in the jungle. The hotel restaurant where breakfast could be taken was right beside this pool. What a delight it was. We upgraded to a bigger room, a suite in fact, as we were to have three nights at this lovely place and honestly, it was so cheap considering we were in a city. Later on the next day we would be very glad we had done this.
Photos of the Pavilion Hotel Phnom Penh
We decided to visit one of the 300 Killing Fields just outside the city, and S21-Tuol Sleng Prison in the city centre, on one morning. We knew it was going to be difficult and emotional and Geoff wasn’t sure I would be able to handle both on the same day but I agreed with him that it would be better this way. So we booked a taxi to take us out to Choeng Ek (The Killing Field closest to Phnom Penh), wait for us and then bring us back to S-21. He waited for us there too before returning us to our hotel.
I don’t know how much to write about our visit to the Killing Fields and S-21. I made a note in my journal and I’ll copy some of it here:
*CONTENT WARNING, the following might upset some readers.
I found it disturbing, unbelievable and very sad. Man’s inhumanity to man at its very worst. Cambodian against Cambodian. Awful. I was especially affected by ‘The Killing Tree’. This is the infamous tree where Khmer Rouge Soldiers smashed the heads of young infants and babies against the trunk, holding them by their legs, in front of their mothers, and then throwing them into the pit. The mothers, mostly naked, were killed and thrown in after them. This whole scenario is so appalling I found it hard to take in. It is beyond my comprehension how any person could behave in this way. In my journal I wrote: unbelievable, SAD , awful, horrid, terrifying, cruel, inhuman. Beyond anything I can imagine.
Above are some photographs of the Killing Fields
The S-21 prison was originally a school, three stories built around three sides of a square courtyard. I saw many schools after this as we drove through the towns on our way up to Siem Reap and every time I was reminded of the awful atrocities that happened in the converted school in Phnom Penh. The S-21 prison was a cruel, horrendous place. Torturing innocent people until they confessed to something that wasn’t true and then they were taken out and killed. At first with bullets but in the end they were beaten to death or hacked with machetes. Classrooms were prison cells and some classrooms were divided into many small cells by building brick walls creating small, cramped cells about 6’x 3′. Four years this continued. 1975 until 1979, when the Vietnamese came into Cambodia and beat the Khmer Rouge into surrender. Between 14,000 and 17,000 people went into this prison and only twelve are believed to have survived. One survivor was there at the prison, Bou Meng, there is a book about his experience and we bought it from him as he sat behind a table in the courtyard at Tuol Sleng. I did do some reading about the history of Cambodia and when we came back home last week we watched again the film The Killing Fields. This time I understood it all so much better. Those young (very young) boys who made up. the Khmer Rouge army really had no choice. Brainwashed and in fear of their own lives, I guess they did what they had to do. But some of them did it with relish I think. Others did not.
A few photographs from S-21 Prison. Top includes photographs of some prisoners.
Centre top includes John Dewhurst and Kerry Hamill
Bottom is from left: The memorial, Bour Meng’s book, The courtyard today.
There were so many photographs showing tortured, and dead bodies with many stories behind the pictures. You can only take so much. One story touched me particularly hard and I expect that was because of losing my son Tosh when he was 27. There were three young foreigners John Dewhurst and Kerry Hamill and Stuart Glass. They were on a boat off the coast of Cambodia when attacked by a Khmer Rouge gunboat. Stuart Glass was shot on the boat and the other two were taken to S-21 prison and were killed after being tortured. They were around the same age as Tosh when they died. I cannot begin to imagine what their parents went through. It’s a dreadful story. You can read more about their story hereand also a more detailed account of S-21.
I am sorry if this is not my usual kind of jolly blog but I felt I had to write about it even though it was not a good experience. We cannot hide from these things that have occurred in the world. They are complicated emotions that I feel; guilt, sadness, hopelessness, despair — but I’m not an activist and I am guilty of letting these things happen. I know it was something that Tosh felt strongly about, knowing these dreadful things are going on in the world but not actively doing anything about it. We are all guilty of standing back and letting things go by. I guess we fall back on, ‘what can I do about it?’
It was incredibly hot while we were there, 39 degrees for most of the time. When we got back to our hotel Geoff began to feel unwell. He’d lost his cap sometime during the morning and the heat obviously affected him. He was burning up although we’d not been ‘in the sun’ it was cloudy and the smoke was still hanging about. He just overheated rather dramatically. He went to bed and I kept putting wet flannels that I had cooled down in the freezer over his head. He slept for something like 17 hours and didn’t eat until breakfast the next day.
I swam in the pool and tried to take in all that we had seen, although it felt decadent and disrespectful to be just relaxing and doing nothing. We had paid our respects and I had thought deeply about the people and what happened from 1975-1979 in Cambodia.
The rest of the day I spent in our room. As I said at the beginning we’d upgraded to a suite so I was able to be in the sitting room while keeping and ear and eye on Geoff who was flat out in the bedroom. I read the book about Bou Meng. It was thought provoking and moving. I wondered how must it feel to be one of the only survivors out of thousands of prisoners. He survived because he was an artist and they were able to use him to paint portraits of prominent communist leaders and other posters for propaganda.
The next day, Geoff stayed out of the heat but I thought I should make the effort to go to the Royal Palace which was very close to our hotel. A very different experience from the day before. Such opulence, gold and comfort everywhere. I could only see 50% of the palace because it was the beginning of three days celebration for the Cambodian New Year and the king was practising something (sitting probably) in his throne room. In any case it was extremely boiling and I didn’t want to get struck down in the same way Geoff had. I went into the Silver Pagoda which is known as ‘The Temple of the Emerald-Crystal Buddha’ . No photographs allowed sadly. A few people were bowing and praying on the carpet below the buddha which was not that big but set high up on top of a gold plinth in the middle of the building. I walked around the grounds but for a very short time, always trying to keep in the shade. There was a model of Angkar Wat – we would be going there the next day. Finally I walked towards the exit where I found a magnificent model of king’s litter with soldiers and servants attending him. It was absolutely magnificent. Housed in an air conditioned room I spent some time there before walking back to our hotel.
My next post will be about Siem Reap and hopefully a jollier one. Cambodia is a beautiful country, we should not forget that and Phnom Penh must live with its history. Anyone over 50 is a little reluctant to talk about it.
As we came into land at Luang Prabang International Airport I was shocked at the amount of smoke in the air. I knew that the smoke was a problem in Thailand with the farmers burning their post-harvest stubble but had no idea it would be the same in Laos. The smoke was so thick you could barely see across the runway to the terminal building. I heard a few days later that they had shut the airport for one day that week because visibility was so low. You could smell the smoke in the air, I can’t find the words to describe it. All I can say is that it wasn’t pleasant and it took me back to the time when they burnt all the cattle in the UK because of foot and mouth disease — it’s clag-like and sticks in your nose and throat. Many people were wearing masks, and we did too, but I’m not sure it made any difference.
The smoke did not detract from the beauty of Luang Prabang, we only thought how much better it would be without it. We had a five-day stay and the smoke hung around for most of the time only lifting for the last two days, when we could actually see across the Mekong and enjoyed a lovely meal in a restaurant right beside the magnificent river.
DINNER BY THE MEKONG
There is no shortage of cafés, market stalls, street sellers etc., in Luang Prabang, in fact every road and every corner and every conceivable place where you could set up a stall, someone would be selling or cooking something. I quite enjoyed the night market, even though the evening we strolled through, the smoke was very bad. We walked around the town during the day and stopped for coffee a couple of times and shopped in a rather lovely boutique. We also visited the Lao Traditional Arts and Ethnography Centre where I learned a little about the different ethnic origins of the Lao people. While there I bought a necklace, a shopping bag and a mug (I’d broken my mug that I bought when travelling down to Phuket 🙁 so I had to replace it.)
One evening we went to the Lao Ballet. I didn’t fully understand the story but the costumes and the dancers were brilliant. The girls so elegant with beautiful hand movements. I was so glad to have seen it. The only problem was a gentleman in front of me who was videoing the whole thing on his iPad…I wanted to ask him why he didn’t just watch it on youtube! I took my photos at the end when invited to do so.
DANCERS – I didn’t get a photo of the girls’ beautiful hands! Here’s one I found on Pinterest
Move on to other images of Luang Prabang
CHECK OUT THE SLIDESHOW ABOVE – A PHOTO DUMP OF LUANG PRABANG. THERE’S EVEN ONE OF ME PRETENDING TO WRITE IN A CAFE. . .IT’S ACTUALLY SOMETHING I NEVER DO. I AM NOT A COFFEE SHOP WRITER.
We took a trip out in a taxi to the Kuang Si Waterfall. Our driver Seet ( that was how it was pronounced but not sure how it’s spelt) was very helpful pointing out various interesting places as we passed them. He asked if we wanted to stop at the tourist elephant spot to ride and feed the elephants but we declined because it wasn’t a sanctuary. Before actually reaching the waterfall we had to walk through a forest where there was a bear sanctuary. The bears were in huge enclosures with plenty of room to move around, play and relax. They seemed happy, which made me happy. Of course we both bought T-shirts and made a donation to the cause.
THE BEAR SANCTUARY
The waterfall was the best thing I’ve done in ages. We arrived early, so it wasn’t too crowded. I’d had the foresight to change into my swimming costume before I left the hotel – wise decision because changing back into dry clothes after I swam was difficult enough in the public toilets with soaking wet floors. I actually changed outside any cubicle. . . but back to the swim. I edged down the stone steps and sat for a minute with my legs dangling in the water. I couldn’t believe all the little fish swimming around my feet but they were harmless and it didn’t put me off taking the plunge. It was cold but not uncomfortably so. A few people were swimming and a couple of Lao women who swam close to me, indicated that I should jump up and down, so I did and we all laughed. I swam out to the waterfall and realised I was smiling the whole time. A wonderful feeling of wellbeing coursed through my body. That might sound over dramatic but the positive effect physically and mentally on me during that swim was something I will never forget.
OUR VISIT TO THE WATERFALL AND THE BEAR SANCTUARY
As we drove away from the waterfall there were an amazing number of white butterflies – it was beautiful. The photo below doesn’t really show how amazing it was. I did take a little video too but I don’t seem to be able to upload it onto here.
We stayed in Luang Prabang for three days and then took the high speed train down to Vientiane where we stayed for just one night before flying to Phnom Penh. The train station was out in the middle of nowhere and we were told to arrive at least an hour before departure as we had to show passports and go through security just like an airport. We were impressed with the train, which took just over two and a half hours to cover the 320 odd kilometres. Built in collaboration with the Chinese it took only four years to complete the stretch from Butan in China to Vientiane. The train was quiet, smooth and well ventilated. Cool inside even though the temperature outside was hovering around 38/39 degrees.
Vientiane offered us nothing, particularly as I had booked a rubbish hotel five kilometres from the centre. The next morning when we took the taxi to the airport and drove through the city, we could see that we hadn’t missed much. However, Phnom Penh was to be a different story. You can read about that next time.
I should have written this a few days earlier but I was struck first with a horrible head cold in Bangkok and then a bout of Thai Tummy (yuk). I’m over it all now thank goodness.
We left Bangkok on the 27th March and headed south for three hours. Our first stop was at the Eurasia Chaam Lagoon Hotel. Not the best place I’ve stayed in but cheap at £25 per night for two people. The mattress on the bed was an old sprung one and the bathroom had much to be desired. It was tired and old but clean and it worked so can’t complain at the price. The beach was close and the pool (only one was open they were repairing the other) was warm and big enough for a good swim. I spoke to a few friendly Thai children when I was there and they were very keen to practice their English! Matthew spent the day fishing at the Jurassic Fishing Park (his birthday treat to himself) sadly he didn’t catch anything this time out. We joined him in the evening for a great meal beside the lake. Wonderful food and great company.
Eurasia Chaam Lagoon Hotel Photo Dump (I think this is the expression)
Fishing. . . not really my scene but it was the most beautiful, peaceful place.
From Cha-am we drove down to Chumphon where we stayed at Nana Beach Hotel and Resort Geoff and I booked a cabin which was delightful. Outside there was a little seating area. The pool was warm and opposite the hotel was the beach with a pretty good restaurant. We ate here the first night and the second night we chose an Italian place just a few metres walk down the road. Matt had pizza which was apparently as good as the real thing from Italy. . . well the owner of the restaurant was an Italian.
After two nights in Chumphon we headed on down to Khao Lak. It’s one of the areas in Thailand that was hit by the 2014 Tsunami on Boxing Day. It is the most beautiful place but all the time we were there the tsunami was in the back of my mind. I know it’s nearly 20 years ago and today there would be more of a warning, and people would understand what was going to happen but even so . . .
A sign to remind everyone. . .
Our hotel, Seaview Hotel and Resort was gorgeous and I was disappointed not to be spending more than one night. So I managed to give myself a bit of food poisoning which meant there was no way I could travel on to Phuket with the others on Saturday morning. I went to extreme lengths to spend another day in Khao Lak and it was wasted because I spent the whole time in bed! (except when I wasn’t throwing up or something even more horrendous). The Man was a saint and looked after me superbly.
Next Stop Phuket
Now I have to say right from the start that Phuket was not my favourite spot in Thailand. It was very busy and where we were staying made it impossible for us to ‘walk’ into town. I was probably still feeling a bit rough after Khao Lak which didn’t help. My lovely son drove all the way back from Phuket to Khao Lak to collect us and I really appreciated that. It took well over two hours each way for him. We had a lovely villa with a pool and the family enjoyed a few days there together. Matthew and his wife Som were married last December but none of the family could make it. So, we did a little re-enactment which was all rather lovely and a bit emotional. The granddaughters were ‘bridesmaids’, Matthew read out his speech and there were a few tears. All wonderful family time. Afterwards we drove to a restaurant high above the sea, ate a lovely meal and watched the sunset. Below are some random photographs of the wedding, the pool at the villa and the sunset at the restaurant. Loved it all!
Some wedding photos
The Man and I left Phuket on Thursday 6th April to travel across to Lao or should I spell it Laos? It’s a bit confusing. What is certain is that most people pronounce it Lao. . . but. . . take a look at this website HERE
It was a long flight and fairly bumpy for the first half but it settled down for the final six hours and eventually we landed at Bangkok Survarnabhumi airport. It was four o’clock in the afternoon and the heat as we exited the plane struck us full force. The intensity is indescribable, and it was incomprehensible to my English body and brain how this much warmth could be just in the atmosphere without some mechanical or other kind of assistance. We were tired but still had to get through immigration and the queue was long. But, there was nothing could be done except wait and be patient. The bags arrived on the belt well before we were there to collect them, which makes a change. A bit of a hassle to get a cab but we managed to jump the queue unintentionally. Forty minutes later we were checked in to our hotel room. Showered, a change of clothes and we were ready to go out into Bangkok city and meet my son and daughter-in-law for supper.
Naturally we lost ourselves within the first five minutes. We were staying in the Centre Point Hotel Sukhumvit 10. Sukhumvit is the name of the area as well as the street name but ALL the streets were named Sukhumvit but with different numbers. A grid system. Simple but not for a couple of jet lagged Westerners looking for a restaurant who assumed Sukhumvit 11 would be next to 10. Additionally, there were not street names on the walls of the buildings and for some reason (probably jet lag again) we didn’t notice the huge street signs on poles at every corner!
As you can see by the photographs the signs and cables in Bangkok abound in their thousands. The railway was running above our heads as we walked along. Street vendors, the music blaring our walk around the area close to our hotel assaulted all our senses. Bangkok is colourful in every way. The smell of stir frying vegetables, and deep frying foods such as spring rolls — we didn’t see any chicken feet that night thank goodness. There are loads of stalls selling ready prepared fruits; pineapple, melon, grapefruit and pomelo (a new one for me, like a grapefruit). Also of course the ubiquitous coconut! The photograph at the top is a coconut smoothie, a delicious blend of ‘things’ passed off as a mocktail.
Our hotel was wonderful and the salt swimming pool an absolute delight, as well as a must for cooling off. Even though I stayed in the shade for ninety-nine per cent of the time we were there I still managed to get sunburn and prickly heat! I went to the beauty salon in the hotel and got a pedicure, foot massage, nails painted, the full works for an astonishing 200 baht (around £4.80).
We were in Bangkok to celebrate my son Matthew’s 50th birthday. Eventually the whole family arrived in the city and we were joined by a few of Matt’s friends for a meal at Mr Ribeye. There were sixteen of us sitting around the table. I think we gave him a good evening.
A slideshow of Bangkok sights including the hotel pool, Bangkok at night, a walk around a nearby city lake which was only 400 metres from our hotel. Bangkok is a busy city and very hot.
I’m adjusting to the heat gradually. We left Bangkok last Monday to travel down the coast with a few stops, (Cha-am, Nana Beach Chumphon, Khao Lak )along the way to Phuket. More about this little road trip on the next post.
We have lived in Dorset for seven years and every now and then we visit the coast. West Bay, Charmouth, Lyme Regis etc., I know it’s the Jurassic Coast but have never given it that much thought. A couple of weekends ago some friends from Essex came to visit and Helen, booked for she and I to go on a fossil walk on Charmouth Beach. We ended up as a group of five, two others from Weston Super Mare and the lovely Victoria who led the walk. We all met on the footbridge leading to the beach from the carpark. Several people had a problem with paying at the parking machine but I was able to use the app on my phone. Honestly, you can do anything with an app on your phone these days. It’s convenient but slightly worrying. Apps are definitely taking over. . . but that should be another blog post. Back to Charmouth.
Vic (as she liked to be called) gave us a short talk about the Jurassic coast. She gave us two booklets and the following paragraph is an extract from one of them.
It is one of the world’s great natural wonders. It extends for 95 miles along the Dorset and East Devon coast and offers a unique “Walk Through Time” starting at Orcombe Point near Exmouth and continuing to Studland Bay in east Dorset, it is the only place on earth where you can walk through three distinctive geological eras. It captures the remains of the arid deserts of the Triassic, the shallow seas of the Jurassic and the tropical swamps of the Cretaceous. For more information click HERE
Vic giving us the pre-walk talk at a picnic table.
After the talk we picked up our bags and headed down to the beach. There were plenty of other people and dogs on the beach, many of them with their heads down scouring the sand and pebbles for any sign of a fossil. It’s hard to tell at first and several times I picked up a little something thinking I had made the find of the century only to be told it was just a bit of pottery or a few stones stuck together with clay. Very disappointing. But it wasn’t long before one member of our party found a small ammonite and we all cheered even though we were a little jealous!
This was the terrain where we searched for fossils.
Eventually I found two small ammonites and several belemnites. I sound like I know what I’m talking about but honestly? I’m none the wiser really. A couple of hours on the beach is not long enough. I’ll have to go again and maybe take the grandchildren with me. But, they’ll probably find loads and know all about it. . . that’s just how it is with the old and the young 😊
I was pretty pleased with my haul and I came back home full of enthusiasm for more fossil hunting. One of the other party members gave me a rather lovely (and certainly larger) ammonite than the one I found in exchange for a copy of Dear Tosh. I hope he enjoys reading it! Tosh would have loved searching on the beach for fossils. I thought about him a great deal.
My little haul of fossils. The top left is not a fossil but a quartz stone, I rather liked it. You can see the ammonites (the largest I was given) and the belemnites are the little bullet type shape. The ends of tentacles from a squid like animal I believe.
Watch out for a blog post or two over the next few weeks as I’m off to Thailand for a family 50th — not mine but my eldest son. I know, I know I don’t look old enough to have a fifty-year-old son (she says modestly) but when you’ve been amongst the 180+ million year old fossils for a day it does make one feel pretty young and insignificant!
See you from Thailand, Cambodia and Laos…watch this space.
Oh and by the way, Victoria also has an alpaca farm where you can experience a walk with the alpacas and other activities. Click on the link to see more. Little Orchard Alpacas
For two weeks of February I spent time with my two lovely granddaughters, looking after them at their home in Bristol and then travelling with them to New York and Boston for the second week which was their half-term. This could be a very long post but I’m going to cut down on the text and give you all the photos I can, so that you can see how amazing it was.
My first trip, was with the eldest granddaughter, here in the UK. We went to Slimbridge Wetland Centre with her school. My daughter had signed up to be a parent helper, but in her absence I readily took her place. It’s years since I went on a school trip (we called it an outing) — they haven’t changed one bit! Children eating their packed lunch and treats on the coach before we even reached our destination. Lots of chatting and excitement each time they were lined up in crocodile formation as we moved from place to place on the day’s excursion. We arrived at the park in just over an hour, Bristol to Gloucestershire. It was unfortunately misty for the first part of the day which meant our view from the lookout tower over Swan Lake, was somewhat obscured. No problem we soon raced around the frogs zone looking at — well, mainly frogs — walked all around the park, ate our lunch, and did a bit of ‘learning’. For me the pièce de résistance was the Estuary View Lookout. Amazing. I couldn’t believe how close to Bristol we were as I looked across at the fantastic river valley.
I learned a lot about wildfowl, migration and for a while I even began to like birds. They’re not my favourite species but it was interesting to hear about their habitat and habits. The staff at the centre made learning fun, involving the children in games to help them understand why and where birds migrate. I held the winning card in one game, much to the delight of grandchild number one! For the most part though, she kept her distance. Understandable, who needs their Nonna to be too close on a school trip. (I did hear her boast about me afterwards which was really lovely).
AMERICA: BROOKLYN, AND BOSTON
We flew Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow to JFK and it was not at all bad. The bus from Bristol was 45 minutes late but I had left the house in plenty of time. My daughter’s chirpy text, ‘Lucky you’ve got 47 hours’ was a bit cutting and obviously exaggerated, I had actually only allowed for 4 hours at the airport. We made it with 3 hours to spare. Good flight. Good children. Arriving at JFK in the evening (it was about 3am uk time) we were all exhausted and just fell into bed when we got to the hotel. Let me add here that I then spent 10 nights in the same room as the children and their mother, two different hotels. Thank goodness hotel rooms in America are ENORMOUS!
We spent the weekend in Brooklyn where the children and my daughter have many friends. Both grandchildren were born in New York, one in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan. They caught up with their buddies before we drove up to Framingham near Boston. The hotel here was brand new, The Aloft, and it was chosen because it had a swimming pool HOWEVER, the pool was out of action because there was no lifeguard. Despite the fact that the pool was small and completely visible from the lobby of the hotel through a glass wall. Raised eyebrows here. Ah well. It was okay because they gave us complimentary pass to the pool and gym just up the road. No problem then, except there was a problem, because the children were under fourteen. Boy did I kick up a fuss, (get the American lilt in there?) In the end we were able to go and swim at the Sheraton Conference centre up the road, another Marriott Hotel. I think they opened it just for us as we were the only ones swimming. There was a big sign saying NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY (but they seemed to think a sign was a good enough get out) but an older man sat at a desk and watched us for our designated hour. He was okay and spent at least twenty minutes trying to mend a pair of goggles for us. We only did this swim at the Sheraton once as it was a pain taking an Uber to the Sheraton, getting changed, getting dry and dressed and taking and Uber back to Aloft. Still the concierge meant well.
I had to try and find things to do for a couple of days. There wasn’t much around the hotel as it was mostly a highway with strip malls and restaurants along it. I decided to get the train into Boston and visit the Aquarium, the Boston Tea Party and the Children’s Museum. The train was brilliant, only $9.50 for me and the children went free. It was a double decker so much excitement to be had.
My favourite was the sea horse and the girls loved the octopus of course!
On the Wednesday we went to The Boston Tea Party. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. There were very few visitors but the company of actors/guides still put on a good show in the Meeting Room for us, and included everyone in the re-enactment of throwing tea into Boston harbour. Eldest granddaughter threw the tea chest over without a second thought, (it was on the end of a rope obviously).
The boat, Eleanor, was an exact replica of the original. Much smaller than I imagined. To think of it crossing the Atlantic is very scary! The gift shop was full of many items but also a great deal of china and tins of tea. Too much to choose from really. I would like to have had a cup of tea in Abigail’s Tea Room but the girls were ready to run over the bridge to the Children’s Museum.
Our final visit of the day before we headed back to Framingham on the train was The Boston Children’s Museum. An absolutely fantastic place with so much going on and a great deal to see. They had ‘sock skating’, bubble making, science experiments, climbing, arts and crafts, a whole raft of things to do for children up to the age of 12. My favourite was a real Japanese house, dismantled and imported from Japan then rebuilt in the museum. It was fascinating. We were lucky enough to go inside…shoes off of course.
So much to do in the Children’s Museum
The Japanese House
That’s all folks. I’m off to Thailand at the end of March so watch this space for more travel news!