Back to the Big Mango

The Big Mango is Bangkok, by the way. And we’re back.

This is actually the fifth time we’ve passed through the city in our travels. But on our previous visits, we didn’t want to stop around because of the Shut Down Bangkok protests, then there was a curfew after the army took over, but the situation has settled down now so we’ve rented an apartment for nine days and have been alternating at sightseeing and using the luxury of an apartment to pretend that we live here.

Janet and I both love this city and we didn’t want to go home without having spent a little time here, and shown our kids around, so we’re here again, right at the end of our time in SE Asia. Of all the cities we’ve visited, it’s the wildest and most exciting. Everything has an edge here. Sometimes it feels like you’ve been transported into the future, at others like you’re in an incomprehensible otherworld, but always like you’re at the centre of something dynamic and barely-controlled. Not dangerous, mind; just thrilling.

We’ve also been reveling in city life. We’ve spent days in big malls, awestruck at the abundance of stuff. After Cambodia it just seems so decadent and astonishing to see shop after shop brimming with more things than anyone could ever buy. And things we need: new Crocs for our girls and a new wardrobe for Janet from Uniqlo, her new favourite shop.

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We’ve done the tourist thing and visited temples, including the massive reclining Buddha at Wat Pho which, despite being ram-packed with SLR-wielding farangs, is still a must-see and the who-needs-adventure-playgrounds Wat Arun over the river. We’ve travelled around by sky train, taxi, tuk-tuk, motorbike taxi (never again!) and, best of all, on foot. And we’ve visited what turned out to be two of our girls’ favourite places on the trip: Kidzania (where kids get to try out different adult jobs earning and spending money) and Dream World (a theme park where Evie finally got to experience a ride that turns you upside down).

Just having an apartment is exciting enough. We have three separate room (plus two bathrooms)! A year ago that wouldn’t have been anything special but after so long sharing one room with travel beds filling the space on the floor between whatever beds the hotel provides, it feels enormous. We have a sofa. We even have a dining room table. There’s a kitchenette. A fridge. A washing machine!

The girls can run around and play without having to be shushed and ordered down off the walls. We don’t have to usher the whole family outside by 10am in order to stop ourselves eating our own children. It’s even possible for everyone in the family to be in a separate room by themselves (if there are two of us in the toilets)!

Who’d have thought we’d revel so much in home comforts? Things like sitting around a dining room table eating a meal in private rather than a restaurant have become real pleasures. Lying on the sofa watching my girls singing tunes from Frozen, or just playing on my ukulele, feels like luxury. I’d never considered how great it is to be able to put our girls to bed then have a different room to sit up and chat in. But it is! Janet even whooped when she saw the apartment has the washing machine. No more waiting for dirty clothes to build up enough for a trip to the laundry to be worthwhile. Clean clothes every day!

It feels like coming home, being in Bangkok. The city is familiar, we know the food – and the abundance of street food means we can find all our favourites, we can speak enough Thai to get along, we have space and time and, for these nine days, our mounting homesickness seems to be on hold. We’ve found a home from home.

Out of the Frying Pan and into Pattaya

It’s great to be escaping the crowds on Koh Tao.  As lovely as it still is, the island is just too busy right now (at peak season, to be fair) and I was starting to resent the crowds and the lack of any Thai people, culture, or even Thai food.  A particular low moment was Fergus proudly ordering our food in Thai, only to be told by the waiter, “Sorry, no speak Thai!”  You know you’re in a tourist trap when…

However, before we can hit that traveller vibe again, we are off to two of the most touristy places in the whole of Thailand: a night in Khao San Road followed by 3 nights in Pattaya.

Khao San is the notorious hang out for backpackers that’s developed into a kind of hotbed of youth culture, with cheap clothing, knock-off CD’s and DVD’s (it was tapes last time we were there, I feel old) and huge number of bars, nightclubs and late night eateries.

Pattaya is the jewel in the crown of Thailand’s seedier beach resorts, with a propensity to attract middle-aged, overweight Western men.  The beach is supposed to be fairly ropey, but the local tourist office has been trying to redevelop the town to attract older couples and families, so it will be interesting to see it.

Our motivation for making this 2 day journey?  We are going to meet an old friend of Ferg’s who’s just got married here and is having a honeymoon in Pattaya.  I can’t wait to meet him having heard so many stories from childhood, mostly about catching frogs under the school they went to in Malaysia.  Khao San is a natural break in the journey; our bus drops us there at 9pm tonight, so we might as well stay there.

It’s not what we’d have planned to do, but it’s been a fun journey so far and I’m sure the kids will enjoy the experience, plus there’s a pool at our hotel in Pattaya, which guarantees good times for us.

Let the holiday continue!

First Impressions of Thailand


Thailand has a lovely sea and a warm beach. The sea is not as cold as England. The weather can be cold but most of the time it is warm. Bangkok is a bit busy but the islands are nowhere near as busy. The thing I like best is the sea.


Thailand is very hot. It is good that it is hot because it warms you when you have been in the cool sea. Thailand is also fun and exciting since we’ve never been here before. The people are also very friendly especially to children.  My favourite thing is the people acting very friendly towards us.


Here on Koh Samui it is exceedingly hot and every morning you feel like you want to jump in the sea but normally you are out on other business and we only get to go in the sea in the afternoon. The sea is not exactly cold – not as cold as in England – but if you are a child then if you get cold you can go and lie down on the sand in the sun because it is warm. The sun seems to go down very quickly and I don’t know if I’m imagining it because I like it here so much. My favourite thing is how every day you can splash into the refreshing sea.


The food is every bit as good as I remember. The smell of the warm air feels like coming home, almost. The language feels so much more familiar than Napali; I understand snatches of it and it makes me feel excited and I want to learn more of it. My favourite thing is the night market food stalls.


Thai people smile and laugh so much. It feels so safe and friendly travelling here. Just how I remember – but even better with kids. And the food: wow! I’d remembered that it was good but since arriving I’ve also remembered how I grew my first ever belly here. Curse you fried honey bananas! After three months in the mountains, seeing the sea was such a relief. Is there anything better than throwing yourself into the cool sea on a blazing hot day? My favourite thing is… eating.

All Aboard the Night Train

It’s 3:58am. I’m lying on a top bunk. Beneath me, Evie and Jem lie top-to-tail in another. Across the aisle, Janet’s sleeping above Scarlett, who’s sharing her bunk with the baggage we couldn’t fit in the rack. I can hear Scarlett snoring gently.

We’re on the night train from Bangkok to Surat Thani, en-route to the island of Koh Samui where we plan to spend Christmas. Note I’ve avoided the term “sleeper train”. I’ve not really managed to sleep, the bunks not being made for normal-sized six-foot-sixers like myself. Still, I’m glad I’m here – partly because sleeper trains are inherently exciting and partly because, after all today’s upsets, we nearly didn’t make it at all.

The Pain Coffin (aka My Bunk on the Night Train)

The Pain Coffin (aka My Bunk on the Night Train)

Janet and I travelled on this same train 13 years ago, last time we were backpacking, and it was just as exciting then. Although it’s sad to find the train has fallen into neglect since then. Where there used to be polished steel and crisp, white paintwork, there’s now a line of grime in the joints of the steelwork and the paint is chipped and scratched. The ladder to my bunk has a rivet missing and is tied on with red string. The bedside lamps and fans no longer work. The obvious pride that was once taken in the carriages has gone.

Not that I noticed any of that as we lumbered up the platform with our seven backpacks, laptop bag, camera bag, two crutches, three children, one broken leg and two red-faced, sweating parents.

It had all been so carefully planned. The train left at 7:30pm. Our late checkout at the hotel allowed us to lounge by the pool till 4:00. In the intervening hours we’d graze on delicious Thai street food before returning to our hotel, picking up our bags and catching a taxi to the train station with plenty of time to spare.

Only it didn’t quite work out that way.

As we desperately tried to fit all our belongings back into our bags, already well past our 4pm checkout, we had a horrible realisation.

At some point during the previous day’s journey from Kathmandu to Bangkok, the main strap on Scarlett’s rucksack had broken. Retrieving her pack from the baggage conveyor, I’d noticed that it was now only tied on. Still, the strap was still there and I was sure it could be sewn back in place.

It was only as we hurriedly repacked this afternoon that we discovered something was missing from the bag. And not just any something. One of the most precious of all our somethings: Scarlett’s teddy bear, Stitch. Her favourite bear. The only toy she was allowed to bring travelling. The bear that I’d once raced halfway across Yorkshire to buy on the eve of her birthday because it was the last one available anywhere and she’d fallen in love with him weeks before.

I can only assume that her had bag burst open when the strap broke causing Stitch to fall out and be lost in the hold of the plane or at a cargo terminal in Kathmandu, New Delhi or Bangkok.

Scarlett was devastated. Her sisters were fraught. Janet was in tears. I felt lost in grief. I’d packed him. Why had I put him near the top? Why hadn’t I tied him onto the bag like normal? Why hadn’t we put him in hand luggage?

I called the airport. No teddy bears in  Lost and Found.

Was there a department store or mall nearby? Yes. Mah Boon Kong. MBK. “Lots of teddy bears there,” the manager assured me.

“Shall we see if we can find you a teddy bear in Bangkok?” I asked Scarlett, staying calm for everyone’s sake

“But he won’t be the same! He won’t be my Stitchy!”

“I know. No-one will ever replace Stitch. But you could cuddle him and he could make you feel just a little but better. Shall we just have a look?”


Leaving our bags at the hotel, we piled into a taxi. Behind me, Scarlett sat hollow-eyed, her lip trembling, half-buried in Janet’s arms. “I’ll be brave. Don’t be upset, Mummy,” she whispered. I could see her holding back tears.

MBK was not nearby. And it was huge; six floors of little shops, crowded with after-work shoppers. I carried Scarlett, my arms aching by the time we found a toy shop, and they only had a few teddies but two were nice. After much deliberation, Scarlett chose one with a scarf and a label reading, “Huddle Cuddle”. That was his name, apparently. A good sign?

Then back through the teeming mall, a long taxi queue and… Bangkok rush hour.

With an hour and a half to go, our taxi at a standstill, it dawned on me that we might not get back to our hotel and on to the station in time for our train.

With an hour to go, still nowhere near our hotel, we started making desperate plans. Turn the taxi around and head straight for the station while I jumped out and took a motorcycle taxi to the hotel and another taxi onwards? But I didn’t know how I’d carry all the bags myself and didn’t want to leave Janet with a shell-shocked, broken-legged Scarlett and two anxious sisters. All get out and walk? With Tettie on crutches? And where were we, even?

With forty-five minutes to go, we still weren’t at the hotel. We’d never make the train. Why hadn’t we brought our luggage to the mall?

We had to try to make it. Jumping out of the taxi, and with me carrying Scarlett, we ran for the hotel. It wasn’t far.

Thirty-five minutes left and we had our bags. Our many, many, very heavy bags. What was all this stuff? We even had a pair of trekking poles Janet hadn’t dared throw away because they belonged to her mum. I took a big rucksack and Scarlett. Evie and Jem took a smaller rucksack and crutch each, Janet took the other big bag, Scarlett’s small rucksack and the two day bags. We ran for the Metro.

I’d been on the Metro that morning, to buy the tickets. It had been a leisurely 20-minute stroll to the station, another 10 minutes to the ticket office, a few minutes to buy a token, a minute or two more to the platform, five minutes wait for the train, another 10 minutes to Hua Lamphong, the end of the line and Bangkok’s central train station, and finally a further 5 minutes to the platforms.

We ran. Twice we had to stop and let Scarlett hobble along on crutches so my arms could recover and her sisters could have a rest from carrying crutches. Somewhere along the way we dumped the walking poles (sorry, Nana).

Along packed pavements full of commuters we ran, the air thick with heat and petrol fumes. Through the futuristic subway and its icy air-con.  Up and down escalators, stairs, lifts. As we reached the platform, a metro train pulled away, leaving us cursing and tapping our feet. Another came. Inside we paced ike caged animals, impatiently counting down the stations. Then out. And up. And into Hua Lamphong!

With moments to spare we collapsed onto the train, wheezing, shaken, sweaty but triumphant. We’d made it.

Huddle Cuddle, Tettoe's New Bear

Of course, Huddle Cuddle won’t ever replace Stitch. But at least Scarlett won’t be bearless over Christmas on Koh Samui. And he now has his own exciting story of how he joined our family, just like his predecessor.

Back to the Hotel Malaysia

The Infamous Lift Buttons

In 1982, I was hauled up before the manager of Bangkok’s Hotel Malaysia. He was a stern, disapproving Thai man in a smart double-breasted suit who scowled thunder at me as he sent a bellboy to summon my mother. When she arrived, he explained that I was  banned from using the lifts.

Personally, I thought this was terribly unfair. Me and my best friend, Adam, had only been having fun; going up, and down, and up, and down, stopping at every floor, setting the lift off and nipping out of the door to see if we could beat it to the next floor, waiting till someone got in then hitting every button. All good, wholesome fun.

But apparently some people wanted to use the lift without stopping at every floor or sharing a confined space with hysterical nine-year olds. Killjoys.

And so, the ban; which I assume remains in place till this day (the manager never mentioned an expiry date).

The Hotel Malaysia – or Malaysia Hotel as it has inventively been renamed in the intervening years – was also where I learnt to swim. And I’ve wanted to come back here to indulge my nostalgia for a long time. And so here we are.

Only this time its my girls splashing around in the pool. But apart from that, little has changed. The corridors look shabbier but unrenovated. The lifts are the same. The pool is just how I remember, although somehow smaller.

And there’s an older, stern-looking manager who sits at the desk in the lobby… next to the lifts. Could it be him? I’ve used them twice now. I don’t think he recognises me if it is.

Now to start pressing all the buttons.

On the Road Again

Is it really three weeks? Tomorrow we get on a bus to travel 7 hours over potholed roads edged with precipitous drops and soaring cliff faces to Kathmandu, then after 24 hours rest and a last chance to eat cheese before hitting SE Asia, we fly first to Delhi then Bangkok, where,  after another brief 24 hour rest, we jump on a sleeper train,then a ferry, then a songtiaw to Maenam on the island of Ko Samui. That’s five days of travelling.

But I am really looking forward to it. We’ve been very sedentary here in Sauraha but Scarlett had a checkup with her orthopaedic surgeon this week and he’s happy for her to start moving around more now. So we’re hitting the beach!