Thailand day sixteen – Thursday in Khao Lak

I didn’t leave the resort at all on Thursday.  It’s taken me a while to get to this stage!  That doesn’t mean that we did absolutely nothing though.  After the buffet breakfast – which does change a little every day and always has a myriad of tasty options available – Dan went for a walk into the village while I supervised the kids doing water aerobics.

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There wasn’t any rain at all yesterday, so the pools and deckchairs were relatively busy all day. At midday Dan and I took part in a Thai cooking class at the restaurant. This was really more of a “give you a printed recipe, here are all the ingredients prepared for you, and some of you can cook them up” than a proper class, but we all got to eat the delicious proceeds. Dan and I were sitting next to two couples from New Zealand, so picked their brains a little in terms of a potential holiday there one day.

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The girls then took part in a cupcake decorating class. They always love some icing! Dan took the two of them for a walk turning left up the beach instead of right, to see what they could discover. I stayed in the room airconditioning and caught up on some administrative tasks while they wandered.

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Apparently the black sand is the remnants of the former tin mines deep under the ground, as tin was the prime natural resource that was exploited until the demand shifted to rubber.  Apparently the black sand is non-toxic.

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I finally took the time to visit the hotel tailor and admire the fabrics that were available, and we decided to order three tailor made business shirts for Dan.  After all, that allows me more time for selfish sewing – and helps the local economy!  And before we knew it the time had clicked over to happy hour and 110 baht cocktails in the Peace pool. This is the time of day when kids are allowed in the Peace pool – they are normally restricted to the Joy pool – so it wasn’t long before the kids were swimming with Dan and I was having a cocktail. It is a swim up bar, so people can have their drinks while sitting in the pool if they wish. There was even a little music from the in-house entertainers.

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Dinner was booked at the Floating Restaurant, one of the two restaurants at the hotel. It is located right next to the lagoon, but isn’t actually floating. They were putting on a BBQ buffet for dinner, with the duo from the bar having relocated to entertain us at the restaurant. The food was delicious, especially the steak and the ham, and the music was great too. Clare was excited to order a mocktail, and Dan enjoyed his first dry martini.

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The band clearly had an Australian 80s playlist – complete with Men at Work. It took about a minute before Stella began to entertain the crowd with her own brand of interpretative dance.  Those of you who know Stella know how if music plays, she can’t stay still.  This was no different.

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But the highlight of the program was the fire dancers! Four of the hotel staff also moonlight as fire dancers, twirling and spinning lit sticks and balls, and occasionally even blowing a plume of flame high into the air (thanks to kerosene in their mouths apparently!!!!! Eerrrggghhhh)

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It was an impressive performance. The band then returned, and pretty much all the kids at the resort joining Stella and Clare in dancing along. And at one stage Stella and another girl were given microphones – Let It Go!

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We didn’t get them into bed until around 9.00pm. Everyone was tuckered out, but it was a great day.  The resort certainly provides an excellent program to entertain the guests.  Almost everyone we have spoken to is here on a deals package.  We bought our package from a special offer advertised in the local paper, but the price and inclusions were pretty much the same.  Massages, a meal at each of the restaurants, airport pickup, late checkout, breakfast included, cooking class, cocktail making class.  If you are looking for a resort holiday, deals is probably well worth checking out.

Thailand day fifteen – Wednesday touring Ao Phang Nga

Wednesday, tour day!  A minibus collected us from the resort at 8.30am for the drive across to Ao Phang Nga.  We were taking the “James Bond Island” tour.  The film “The Man with the Golden Gun” featured Ko Phing Kan as the lair of Scaramanga, the villain.  I’ll get to more about the island eventually….

The drive across was rather lovely.  The bus wound its way through small villages and lushly covered hills, with rubber tree plantations lining the roads.  Each tree has a little black pot attached to the trunk where the latex is tapped. According to this article Thailand is the world’s biggest rubber producer.  I had no idea!  Wikipedia has a nice summary of the natural rubber production process here.

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Once at Surakun Pier we hopped onto a longtail boat.  Our Melbourne friends were also on the tour, so each of my girls was pretty happy to have a friend to talk to.  Clare and Stella have generally been terrific with one another this trip, with a relatively small amount of niggling and pestering, but it has still been nice for them to have others to spend some time with.  The longtail boat took us past numerous karst formations.  The bay contains more than forty islands.  We also passed some old cave paintings, only a few metres above the water line.

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The boat made its way to a floating platform surrounded by sea canoes. Before we knew it we were all being paddled through archways into small bays, around all sorts of rock formations and close to mangroves and other vegetation.  Our paddler was angling for tips the whole trip, which I found really annoying (“you happy madam?”) but you can’t blame them for trying to maximise their income.  The minimum wage in Thailand has been set at 300 baht per day, which translates to around A$10 per day.  Not much.  However, there are also plenty of extremely wealthy Thai – as evidenced back in Bangkok when we visited Siam Paragon.  There are conflicting figures when it comes to income distribution and purchasing power, but overall the gap between the wealthy and the poor is much wider here than it is in the west.  Additionally, there are groups of people working in Thailand who are not Thai nationals and are paid well below minimum rates.

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There were loads of people following pretty much the same itinerary. This was particularly evident when we got back onto our longtail boat and headed for Ko Phing Kan – more commonly known as James Bond Island. The island is within the National Park, but still has numerous small shops and stalls, and had longtail boats landing on two small beaches every few minutes. It was full of people – and this is low season! I’d hate to imagine what it would be like in high season.  I’m going to have to search out The Man with the Golden Gun when we get home and see what looks familiar.

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We couldn’t wait to get off the island, and all the people on our tour appeared to feel the same way. We had the added impetus of an approaching storm to get us back into the boat. We needed to get to our lunch destination before it poured!  Although many of the rainstorms pass quickly, they are heavy deluges.

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Lunch was held at Ko Panyi, a fishing village built on stilts.  According to Wikipedia the population of the village is 1,685 people, all descended from Muslim fishermen from Java.  The village was originally built on stilts over the water because at the time it was established only Thai nationals could own land.  This is no longer the case, and the well, mosque and school are built on the adjacent island.  There is even a floating football pitch attached to the village.  Fishing is still the major industry for the island, but there are also now plenty of seafood restaurants for the tourists that visit, and plenty of market stalls to sell yet more clothes/”pearls”/seashells/jewellery/trinkets to tourists.  I’d hate to think of what conditions would be like during a storm on the village.  Many of those structures look rather rickety to me.

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Once back on the mainland the last stop on the tour was Wat Suwan Kuha.  a temple built into a cave.  There are many caves in the area, and this is just one of them.  The reclining Buddha is 15 metres long, and there are a number of other images,shrines and a large chedi inside.

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You can walk through the cave to the jungle on the other side.  There is another cave off to the side, which is known as the “dark” cave.  It smelled strongly of damp and mould and who knows what else.  We could walk a little way into the cave, but there wasn’t much light and it was quite wet.  On the rocks at the entrance were a statue of a seated man, presumably a hermit monk who had lived in the cave at some stage.  Who knows!  Rudimentary googling hasn’t helped me to find out much more information about the cave.  What did amuse me was that visiting kings and members of the royal family have carved their initials into the rocks when they have visited over the years.  There is even a plaque in Thai and English explaining whose initials are whose.  But check out the opposite wall (the third photo).

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Outside were monkeys.  Lots of monkeys.  None were in the temple, but there were plenty out the front.  We had been warned not to take bags or food to the temple, but of course there were vendors selling fruit and peanuts to be fed to the monkeys.  Unsurprisingly, this makes the monkeys become aggressive in their quest to be fed.  One monkey grabbed my skirt before I shook it off, and another couple of monkeys had a loud fight with one another then ran straight towards us, giving everyone a big fright.  I was glad to get back on the minibus.  The kids were even gladder.  The monkeys are actually long-tailed macaques.  There are plenty of them living in the fields and jungles as well as hanging around temples.  You can hear them from the resort too.

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We were back at the resort in time for the kids to watch a wedding that was taking place in the garden overlooking the ocean.  Neither of my kids has been to a wedding, and both really enjoyed watching the ceremony from a short distance.  As Stella said “they kissed!  More than three times”!  The wedding party was also very lucky – shortly after the ceremony and photos a storm swept in, pelting the resort with rain.  The kids stayed in the pool and I sat by the bar enjoying a Mojito.  And then a Pina Colada.  The kids were excited to sit at the swim up bar to share a watermelon shake.  Dan was having a little rest in the room and appeared just in time for a Mai Tai before the bar closed.  We’ve been enjoying chatting to other guests.  There are lots of relaxed people here, and plenty of other kids for our girls to swim with.  It was room service for dinner and an early night – but I finally managed to find time to start reading a novel!

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Thailand day fourteen – Tuesday in Khao Lak

This is going to be the shortest blog post I’ve written while on holiday!  Tuesday was the day the girls had been waiting for- hair braiding day.  After breakfast we headed out of the resort to the hairdresser.  It had been extremely stormy overnight, and there were some trees and a shade sail down at the resort.  Power had been cutting in and out a little bit overnight, but the resort must have had its own generators.  The same can’t be said for in the village though – there was no electricity there at all.  No air con and no fans made for a very humid time at the hairdresser, but it didn’t stop the hair braiding (or the superb reflexology foot massage that I had while the girls were being attended to). Humidity is at maximum here – I’d blow dried my hair into its usual sleek asymmetrical bob in the morning, and a couple of hours later it was fluffy!  And even the camera lens is fogged up a bit.

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It took around three hours for their hair to be done.  The girls also had a kids club booking for a “Junior Chef” cooking class where they would be making some traditional Thai desserts, so the kids headed to that at 2pm and Dan and I headed around the beach to Peter Bar once again for a kid-free cocktail.

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The girls stayed at the kids club for a couple of hours, painting plaster figurines after the cooking class and then feeding the resort fish that are living in the lagoon.  Clare said that there were so many fish there at feeding time that they wriggled right up on top of one another to the extent that they were out of the water! Dan sneaked away to track down the foot reflexology man that I’d seen during the morning, and the girls and I headed to the pool. A storm swept through while we were in the pool.  It’s amazing how quickly they come across, the wall of water that ensues, the how quickly they vanish again. It certainly didn’t bother the kids, and they spent another hour or two going down the water slide with a new found friend. The storm made the temperature feel almost cool – possibly the coolest I’ve been since we arrived in Thailand, other than in the frigid air conditioning that is prevalent here.

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Dinner was also at Peter Bar on the beach.  Dan had ordered some huge prawns earlier in the day, and we got there just before sunset.  Even the dogs were settling in to sleep. Unfortunately poor Clare developed a migraine pretty much as we arrived (she has been getting them intermittently for a couple of years now – like mother, like daughter).  So although we enjoyed the food, we couldn’t linger over it as we had to get her home to bed.  Parenting lesson for ourselves – make sure that the kids eat and drink more regularly during the day.  I don’t think she’d had enough of either, and on further questioning she’s actually been feeling a bit headachey since the cooking class, but I think she ignored it because she was having fun.  So it was straight into bed and asleep for both girls at 8pm – and for me, because they were sharing the king sized bed with me that night.

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Today (Wednesday) we have a day trip planned.  Here’s hoping that Clare will be feeling better – and I will make certain to take plenty of water along for her. I will post a little list of my tips on travelling to Thailand with kids on the blog at some stage, including the things that we learned the hard way!

Thailand day thirteen – Monday in Khao Lak

About ten seconds after I pressed publish on my last blog post, where I said that I had seen little rain, the heavens opened up and it absolutely poured for the next three hours.  And here in Thailand, when it rains, it REALLY rains.  Almost a solid wall of water for a couple of hours, then it settled back to a sprinkle.  That didn’t stop the girls from swimming though, as despite the rain it was still quite warm.

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I supervised from under cover, while Dan caught up on reading my blog posts about our holiday then went to the gym. And that was how the morning went from breakfast until our noon massages. Massages take place at a sala near the beach, so you lie there and listen to the waves crashing while you are pummeled, pressed, bent and stretched. We all had Thai massages, which I think are now my favourite form of massage. The pressure and stretching seems to be good for my anatomy. The holiday package came with a number of special offers, including 8 hours worth of massages (distributed in whatever way suits you – each of the four of us had one hour yesterday), dinners for two at each of the restaurants on site, a cocktail class and a cooking class.

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Since we were so close to the beach, post-massage we headed down to the sand and around the corner to Peter Bar for drinks and lunch.

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It was a much cooler day than the previous ones, especially down by the beach. The wind comes in from the ocean, and it has been strong and steady for the last day. I think that we have adapted to the groove of beachside holiday now. Sitting up at the bar watching the kids splash at the edge of the ocean, chatting to the bartender, listening to Linkin Park blaring. It all feels very beachy and tropical, and although it is still warm, it’s not as oppressively hot and humid. Although I could be getting used to it!

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After heading back to the resort we decided that we would go to the market after all. Another group of friends from Australia had arrived at a different Khao Lak resort in the morning, and Stella in particular was desperate to see her little classmate. We decided to meet them there, and enjoy a bit of food and shopping. The market is on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 4pm to around 7pm or so (I imagine that it would much, much later during high season). The girls were excited because they finally bought some tourist clothing. Dan was excited because he finally got a haircut. And I was excited to eat freshly cooked banana and chocolate crepes, oh yum…..the woman making the crepes was extremely skilled! It was worth having them just to watch her swirl the mixture onto the hot plates, spread it around thinly, and add the toppings. She must have made thousands. There were plenty of culinary options at the market, as well as cocktails, clothing and jewellery. It’s back to bargaining for shopping, which I really feel uncomfortable with. I know that some people love it, but I’d prefer to just know what things cost before I decide whether I want them or not!

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We had a great time catching up with our friends, who had only arrived in the morning after an overnight flight from Melbourne. Apparently while we have been away it has been incredibly cold and bitter, some of the chilliest winter weather Victoria has seen for a while. It’s hard to imagine that when we are here in the heat! The bartenders here are all very skilled at shaking up cocktails, and while the girls enjoyed yet another watermelon shake the adults enjoyed a cocktail. We were all home and in bed relatively early. All in all, an enjoyable day.

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Thailand day twelve – Sunday in Khao Lak

When we got to breakfast in the morning and pretty much felt as though we could have been in a restaurant in Australia, I had a minor meltdown.  But you know, I picked myself up and got over it and remembered that we had deliberately chosen a holiday with three different components – city, mountains, sea – and I just needed to deal and enjoy the differences between each place.  So in order to deal, I knew that I needed to do what I do best – research!  Time to head up into the “town” along the roadway and check out local tour options.

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Let’s go to that trusty source of information, Wikipedia, for some background information on Khao Lak.

Khao Lak (Thaiเขาหลัก (Pronunciation)) is a series of villages, now tourist-oriented, mainly in the Takua Pa District and partly in the Thai Mueang District of Phang Nga ProvinceThailand.

The name “Khao Lak” literally means Lak mountain. Lak mountain is one of the main peaks in the hilly small mountainous region (maximum height 1,050 meters) within the Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park.

The tiny village of Ban Khao Lak, the original beach, Hat Khao Lak, and the bay of Khao Lak (Ao Khao Lak) actually all lie in the Lam Kaen sub-district of Thai Mueang district. But in recent years, presumably for reasons of convenience, commerce and marketing, the generalisation of the name Khao Lak has propagated itself northwards almost as far as the town of Takua Pa.

It is popular for its serene ambiance and as a departure point for liveaboard scuba diving trips to the Similan Islands.

Khao Lak is approximately 60 kilometers north of the island of Phuket along Phetkasem Road, (Thai Route 4), one of four major highways in Thailand, Khao Lak is serviced regularly by buses. Phuket International Airport (HKT) is 74 kilometres south on the island of Phuket.

Though Thailand’s economy is mostly export-dependent, Khao Lak remains mostly tourist-dependent, with surrounding agriculture and commercial fishing making up a small contribution to Thailand’s overall economy.

Differentiating Khao Lak from neighboring tourist destinations like Phuket are its quiet, up-scale, secluded coastal resorts; uncrowded beaches; family-friendly nighttime environment and provincial ordinances that prohibit structures taller than the height of a coconut palm tree, keeping Khao Lak down to earth (but subject to sprawl).

Khao Lak the area is definitely all of these things.  The double lane highway has shops along either side in key areas, servicing the tourist community, but the real attractions lie in the beauty of the national parks nearby.  We are here in low season, so the Surin and Similan Islands off the coast are unfortunately closed.  Low season is linked to the weather – this is rainy season.  We haven’t seen much rain at all, only phenomenal humidity.  It looks as though it has been raining overnight however.

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While I was up in the village, the kids did want they had been begging us to do since we arrived – spent time in the pool. We discovered in the evening that although we had sunscreened in the morning, we all needed to be more vigilant with reapplication. Dan even got his stomach burned through his t-shirt! That sun is incredibly powerful, and it is easy to forget that when the UV rays are coming through clouds. Clare struggled a bit emotionally in the morning – she is at that tween age where it can be harder to make instant friends, and she suffers from people presuming that she is much younger than she is and treating her accordingly. I sometimes feel like giving her a sign that says “I am eleven years old and quite intelligent”, as I remember the feeling from when I was her age. Stella has had no qualms with playing with other kids in the pool or the kids club, just inserting herself into the action whether she is invited or not!

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We had lunch at one of the hotel restaurants. That gave us an opportunity to talk about what we all wanted to do while we were here, and try to timetable it accordingly. I think that this helped Clare to feel a bit more in control, because the day progressed rather beautifully after lunch.

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Clare had studied the Kids Club program, and Stella just wanted to check it all out, so the girls went there for fun and face painting while Dan and I went to a cocktail making class that was included in our holiday package. Dan even fitted in a quick trip to the hotel gym before we made cocktails. And it seemed that everyone had fun!

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While making cocktails we discovered that lots of people come to the Sands to get married. There are weddings here every couple of days. Some of the people in the class with us were from a group of forty Australians here for one wedding, and others in the class were the bride and groom and their parents from another wedding. And lo and behold, when we headed down to the beach we came across another bride having photos taken for her wedding!

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The next couple of photos show you the beach view from the resort, looking left and looking right. It really is rather spectacular and relatively deserted.

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On our way to the beach we encountered more local wildlife in the resort. Dan rather fancies himself as a lizard hunter….

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We turned right when we got to the beach and went wandering. The girls enjoying playing in the edges of the waves, trying to avoid getting soaked as the water rushed in. The beaches aren’t safe for swimming at the moment. I think it is seasonal, and possibly is unlikely to change throughout the duration of our stay. There is a flag warning system with green, yellow and red flags, and the red flag has been flying since we arrived. It was fun spotting the tiny crabs that weren’t evident until they skittered away as you approached. There were also plenty of the ubiquitous Thai dog community. The dogs aren’t wild, and they’re not necessarily strays, but rather they appear to be “community” dogs. Either way, we’ve told the kids to stay away from them.  We also came across a washed up bottle that was covered in barnacles, and they were busy opening and closing and poking in and out of their shells.  Very Attenborough.

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The beaches in Thailand are public, and during high season they are lined with huts selling food, drinks, massages, tours, and other goods, with associated vendors wandering along the beach. As it is low season most of the huts were empty. Despite the resort seeming to be full, tourist numbers in general are obviously down at this time of year. We came across one fantastic little beachside bar, Peter Bar, quite close to the hotel, where we enjoyed a gin and tonic as we watched the waves crash in. We’ll be back there for a meal and massage at some stage.

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The clouds were closing in, necessitating a sprint back to the resort. The thick dark clouds look rather dramatic, although they don’t always seem to produce a great deal during the day. The rain seems to be happening overnight. Dinner was at a restaurant up on the main road, Smile restaurant. The owner and host is French, and his Thai wife is the cook. It was another brilliant meal, with excellent service and the provision of a kids menu that was appropriate but still regionally and nutritionally appropriate. Highly recommended! The kids were exhausted, so we managed to get them straight to sleep when we got back to our room. It’s now shortly after 8.00am on Monday and there is no sign of movement from the rest of the family. Everyone is tired, and it’s a well deserved and much needed sleep in. Today will be a quieter one I think, with massages booked for midday. Maybe a market trip this afternoon, but maybe not. We’ll see! I might finally be able to read some of my book instead.

Thailand day eleven – Saturday in transit

Saturday was our transit day.  We had to leave Chiang Mai and Baan Boo LOo to fly down to our resort in Khao Lak for the final 8 nights of Thailand stay.  I have to admit, I was extremely sad to leave.  Baan Boo LOo had become such a comfortable home away from home, and we’d had contact with the local Thai that I doubt we would have had if we’d stayed in a hotel rather than in a guesthouse.  That said, Stella was absolutely looking forward to a swimming pool and, as she says, a “modern” building.

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We didn’t need to leave for the airport until 11.30am.  This gave plenty of time to just enjoy our surroundings, checking out the guesthouse garden, meandering over breakfast and coffee, and saying our last goodbyes to fellow guests and especially to Orn and the rest of the staff at Baan Boo LOo.  I attempted to visit Studio Laenna, a very well known textiles studio, but it was closed!  Oh well, I’ll have to save that for our next visit.  Because I loved Baan Boo LOo so much, and all the little details it contained, here are some more photos to give you a feel for it.

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There were plenty of things that we could have done around Chiang Mai if we’d had a longer stay.  I highly recommend it if you are looking for a holiday where you want to find out about local culture and food, while enjoying the ease of low fixed prices and straightforward transport.  I am now dreaming of a trip to Chiang Mai and Laos and Cambodia in 2016 if the planets all align……

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Once we got to the Air Asia counter for our flight to Phuket, we eagerly awaiting the final weigh in of our bags.  I had pre-booked 15kg per person, and had packed a fair bit into my carry on backpack.  Would we be under the weight limit?

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Too right we were!  I could have done much more shopping!  Ah well, we live and learn.  Travelling to a hot and humid country means that you don’t have to pack a great deal of clothing, and you only need a couple of pairs of sandals.  That left plenty of room in our bags.  We have had laundry done a couple of times so far – we send it out and pay by the kilo.  Our flight was straightforward, as was the transfer pickup at the airport in Phuket.  The drive to Khao Lak, which is on the Andaman coast, took just over an hour.

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The resort – The Sands Khao Lak by Katatani – is HUGE.  Three stories high, but covers a massive amount of land and extends right down to the sea.  It’s only a few years old, having been built after the 2004 tsunami wiped out this entire area of coastline, taking thousands of lives with it as well.   We chose the resort because there was a special deal for it in the newspaper one day – and clearly, much of the rest of Australia took advantage of the same deal, because almost everyone who is staying here is Australian.

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I found the switch from Baan Boo LOo to the resort a major culture shock.  That said, the resort is certainly spectacular.  It has everything that you could want or would expect in a resort – pools, one for families and one that is adults only, lounge chairs everywhere under the palm trees, a lagoon, two restaurants, three bars, a kids club, gymnasium, organised activities, and the rest.  Just perfect for families or for older couples – it’s not a place for late teenagers or those in their early twenties, who probably would stay in Phuket for the nightlife there anyway.

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While out buying some tawdry tourist t-shirts, we spotted this massive gecko on the wall of the shop, hiding behind the t-shirts!  It was about 20cm long.  Most of the geckos here are rather small – although they give off loud barking noises – so this was quite a change.  Our dinner was at a local Italian restaurant, and it was some of the best Italian food that I’ve eaten for a long time, including in Melbourne!  The chef is Italian, uses a wood fired oven, and the food was great.  However, the meals here in Khao Lak cost about double the cost of meals in Chiang Mai, so that is a bit of a shock to our systems.  We have become used to paying less than A$25 for food and drinks for the four of us.  Here in Khao Lak it is more like $40 for the same type of meal.  Obviously this is still much less than we would pay in Australia, but the contrast is rather dramatic!

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It was late by the time we got back to the hotel after quickly scoping out the main street of town and the general lie of the land.  Stella and Clare were pleased to discover English speaking television in our room, and it took ages to settle them to sleep.  The room is rather nice, although according to Dan it looks a little “Ikea” in style rather than being definitively Thai in any way.  The kids enjoyed the folded toilet paper and towel origami.  I’m just looking forward to a soak in that bath at some stage!

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So here we are, in the winding down and relaxing part of the holiday.  I am grieving (more than) a little for Chiang Mai and Baan Boo LOo.  Here I feel as though we could be almost anywhere in the world, and it is large and at this stage impersonal which is a complete contrast to our beautiful guest house and the people we met there.  That said, there is a lot here that I know we will enjoy, especially as far as the kids are concerned.  Fingers crossed that this part of the holiday is as satisfying as the first.

Thailand day ten – Friday in Chiang Mai (part one)

Well, Friday was the day that many a sewist who is following along my adventures was waiting for – fabric shopping day!  We made sure that we partook in a sumptuous breakfast to ensure that we were all fuelled up for the day ahead.

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The wonderful Gaye arrived at my guest house at 9.00am, ready to take the whole family to check out the fruit, flower and fabric markets.  I was so pleased to finally meet Gaye in real life – and it turned out that she is a fellow Australian!  See, you don’t know everything about someone from reading their blog.  She has lived in Thailand for some time.  And it was wonderful to have a Thai speaker showing us around!

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We headed off to the markets in a sorng-taa-ou, the little red mini-bus/taxis that are very common on the streets of Chiang Mai.  You let them know where you want to go, but they will stop and pick up other passengers on the way if they want to go in the same direction.  They are a very cheap mode of transport.  There are still plenty of tuk tuks on the streets of Chiang Mai, and they act as a private service that takes you directly to your destination, but are more expensive than a sorng-taa-ou (around 100 baht for distances that we wanted to travel, versus 20 baht per person via sorng-taa-ou). Our first stop was at the fruit markets at Talat Warorot, Chiang Mai’s oldest marketplace. It was fun seeing which fruits we could identify and which we had absolutely no idea about. Do you know what all of these are?

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Just around the corner from the fruits were flowers. All sorts of flowers! Apparently many are brought down from where they are grown high in the mountains during the cool of the night, so that they are still fresh to sell in the morning. Gaye says that Thai people use flowers a lot in their everyday lives, both for offerings (especially the lotus flowers) and for decoration, and that they are affordable for the everyday person.

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And then it was around the corner to our locate fabric shop number one.

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This shop sells locally machine woven cottons. I loved that they were regional textiles, but also very useable for a Melbourne lifestyle. This is where I bought the first six fabrics from my previous blog post. I could have easily bought more, but knew that there were other fabric shops ahead – and knew that we have a luggage allowance that we want to stay below! The fabric varied considerably in weight and texture, as well as print. There were even a couple of unusual stretch fabrics in there. I found that the heat of Thailand was really influencing my choices – I couldn’t bear to buy anything that was too heavy or hot!

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From there we headed back toward the market proper, via a lovely little gift shop housed in this old building. Chiang Mai has been a very straightforward place to shop. Pretty much everything is fixed price, and the prices are extremely reasonable. No-one hassles you, everyone is helpful. It’s been a very relaxing place to be – even in its busyness!

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We found some shops that sold lovely ready made cotton and silk garments, many from hand-woven fabrics. These are still relatively expensive, at least as far as my budget is concerned. For example, these handwoven silk mudmee lengths of fabric, one yard wide and three yards long, cost 3500 baht apiece. That works out to around A$125. However, they are absolutely superb.

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Gaye and I had a wonderful time snoop shopping through the garments, checking out the details and the ways that panels, tucks, godets, yokes, seamlines and embroidery have been used to create truly unique and special garments. Many were rather Tilton-esque, we thought – and many aligned with what is often considered by sewists to be a Japanese aesthetic. We came to the conclusion that many were garments based on rectangles, with shaping introduced through the use of tucks, folds and seamlines rather than darts.

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Clare was thrilled to finally find a tie-dyed top that fitted her. One of the other great things about these markets was the colour and mixture of shape, pattern and texture almost everywhere you looked.

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By this stage the family was wilting. We needed food and drink, quickly! I looked across the road and realised that above the shop that I was admiring was a cafe. So over and up we went! Lunch was waffles for the kids, curry for Dan, and Pad Thai for Gaye and myself. It was a gorgeous little cafe, Nepalese in style, and it was a pleasure to spend a little time sitting there in the relative cool and considering what to do next.

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At this stage we took the route of the wise and sent Dan and Stella back to the guesthouse while Gaye, Clare and I entered the real fray of the market fabric shops. I think that the pictures really tell the story. Nothing is terribly well organised, bolts of fabric are closely packed together, there are no cutting counters – everything is cut by a helpful sales assistant who will be somewhere nearby with a one metre ruler and scissors – but boy, there are some gems at around a third of what you would pay in Australia. There are some rather dubious fabrics too – but isn’t that the case everywhere? I stuck mostly to cottons and linens, which are the most practical for my lifestyle.

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This woman was making self-covered buttons, in a variety of styles with a handy button press. She was very happy to demonstrate its use for us. The Thais don’t waste anything – she was using oddments to make the buttons, there are tailors around who do repairs as well as making garments from scratch, and many materials are recycled or used in different ways.

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And this is the cotton guipure lace that I adored but didn’t buy.  The colour is actually a sage/khaki, which was hard to photograph and would vary between  computer monitors.  I just could not figure out how I could use such a formal fabric in my everyday life. It was just divine, but I let it go. I’m still not sure if I will regret that or not.

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So, by this stage we’d been out for almost six hours. Phew! Into the tuk-tuk, and back to the guesthouse.

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I can’t really thank Gaye enough. As well as being a wonderful shopping companion and all-around friendly and generous person, she gave us many insights into the life of the Thai people and the way that the country works politically and socially. It was fascinating in many ways. Such a pleasure. And by the way, I wasn’t the only one who bought fabric….

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The next event for the day was Dan’s cooking class – but that is being saved for the next post! I wonder if I can get him to write it?