Different travelling styles

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As I sit, poised on the edge of my seat, my left eye twitching, clutching my wheely and passport ready to bolt for  the gate where our plane is now boarding, I realise that travelling with Husband is probably not good for my blood pressure.

There are two types of travellers, those who like to arrive at the airport in plenty of time, to perhaps browse in duty free or visit Starbucks and keep stress to a minimum, and those who are quite happy to draw up outside the terminal in a taxi as their flight starts to board, saunter through security and dawdle to the gate as their name is being called over the tannoy.

Now I am not saying that one way is better than the other, but as a member of the first group, and Husband a fully paid up member of the second more, devil may care community, things can get rather tense when we travel together, as we frequently do.

I like to leave home with plenty of time built in for traffic jams, late taxis or just Acts of God.  Husband will frequently ring to say he is leaving the office for the airport when I have already cleared security.  Luckily I always make sure that I have all my documents with me so that if he misses the plane, I can still travel.  In fairness he has only missed two flights, one due to the fact we had forgotten the clocks moved forward an hour that day and the other because he got lost on the Japanese train system somewhere between Kyoto and Osaka  (easy to do when you don’t speak Japanese).

Part of the problem is the fact that we hardly ever travel with check-in baggage but carry our lives with us in carry on bags.  With the low cost airlines, once the overhead lockers are full, anything left over is put in the hold which adds to the journey time at the other end as you are forced to hang around the baggage carousel waiting anxiously for your suitcase to appear.  So getting your wheely on board is vital to ensuring that you go straight from the plane jetty onto a train or into a taxi.  As stowing the luggage is done on a first come, first served basis, sitting in the lounge finishing an email or wandering blindly away from the gate while on the phone can be the difference between a breezing onto the plane and having the luxury of placing your bag in the bin above your head or frantically forcing your way down the aisle looking for a non existent space to cram your possessions into, at least 19 rows away from where you are sitting.  Teenage Son and Daughter now insist on carrying their own documentation if they are flying with us, so they can board when they like and not wait anxiously for Husband to appear after he has vanished in a puff of smoke while taking a call.

Funnily enough I can see that our offspring are following in our footsteps.  Teenage Daughter has always been slightly dippy when it comes to travelling, although we recently discovered that she needed glasses.  This may explain why she couldn´t get to grips with the London Tube system as she was completely oblivious to maps on the wall or directions to the various platforms.  ¨Wow, is this what everyone sees?¨she asked as she put on her new glasses for the first time and the world swam into focus.  She, like her father is very relaxed about timings and thinks nothing of popping into Lush to buy a few bath bombs while she only has 20 minutes to get across London to catch a train.  Teenage Son on the other hand is a whizz at getting around and can plan and execute a journey using multiple modes of transport and like me, prefers to travel with plenty of time in hand.

The slightly annoying thing is that both Husband and Daughter always seem to arrive in the knick of time while I have been gnawing my fingers to the bone waiting for them.  I think the only solution is to  take Teenage Daughter´s advice.   ¨Chill Mother¨ she says as I am spluttering about timings.  So henceforth I will ¨chill¨ and travel in splendid imaginary isolation and board the plane while still in my comfort zone and let the more relaxed members of the family waft on board when the mood takes them.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tuk Tuks and Temples

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Ta Nei

 

Our first day in Cambodia began at the  fairly reasonable hour of 7.30am.  Luckily the Coffee Fairy had flown in with me and was on duty (see earlier posts) which made the daunting task of waking up and staggering down to breakfast a little easier. Our Khmer guide Manay was waiting for us at reception and with a peremptory wave of his hand he summoned our tuk tuk for the day’s excursion. The tuk tuk, driven by its owner Mr An, was extremely smart with frilled, white satin cushions and a cool box filled with bottles of cold water and jasmine scented cold towels to wipe our hands and faces after each temple visit.  Husband of course insisted on giving himself a full flannel bath whenever he was handed one of these towels much to the amusement of Mr An.

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Husband, Mr An and Manay

 

We set off into the morning rush hour of Siem Reap. The roads were buzzing with hundreds of mopeds, tuk tuks, bicycles and the occasional car and pretty quickly we realised that there are no road markings, no give way signs or traffic lights at any junction or intersection. All the drivers just go for it, keeping a close watch on everyone else and weaving in and out of each other. It is all done with great good humour and politeness and there is very little hooting. The mopeds generally had more than one occupant and I regularly counted four and once five people on board, including two small children.  Mr An carefully wove his way through the apparent chaos and after twenty minutes we arrived at our first stop.

I have wanted to visit the temples of Cambodia ever since Lara Croft in Tomb Raider crept through the ancient stone door which was overgrown with unworldly looking tree roots, and the first temple on our itinerary was the very same one.  Ta Prohm is  amazingly well preserved with wonderful doorways and corridors still intact. The element that makes it unique are the four or five Spung trees which have insinuated themselves between the giant blocks of stone and whose roots resemble the tentacles of some  giant alien. Above us in the uppermost branches were five or so enormous beehives, hanging like brown banners, each at least two metres long.

After fully exploring Ta Prohm we climbed back into the tuk tuk and headed off to a much less visited temple called Ta Nei. It is down a dirt track only accessible by bike, moped or tuk tuk so the tour buses don’t reach it.  We were practically alone as we clambered over giant fallen blocks of stone and walked through passageways full of ancient carvings.  By this time, the temperature must have hit 38 degrees C  and Husband made full use of the cool towels and water offeredby Mr An on our return to the tuk tuk.

The next temple was much larger and had been well restored by the chinese. We decided to climb the ancient stone  staircase to the top which frankly scared me to death. All the temple stairs that we encountered in Cambodia are very tall and narrow so you have to go up and down sideways. It also makes them extremely steep and the staircase in this temple was at least 20 metres high.  Going up was nervewracking  but worth it. We scrambled to the top to find an amazing view of the jungle and we were able to visit the towers on its summit. In one we found a golden Buddha and a little old man who offered us some incense to burn.  Having paid our respects it was time to gird our loins and go back down the near vertical stone staircase. Husband and Manay started down apparently unmoved by the fact that any misstep would lead to instant death. I on the otherhand, had to descend like  an arthritic crab, shaking and clutching onto the stone blocks at the side, trying not to look down.  After what felt like hours, I reached the bottom in one piece albeit with very wobbly legs and was feeling extremely proud of myself when Manay mentioned conversationally that monks in their seventies would think nothing of zipping up and down the same staircase on a daily basis when the temple was in use.

In all we saw five temples that day. Each different from the last but still staggering in their scale and state of preservation.  It had been hard work climbing steep steps and scrambling over ruins and even Husband was  looking a little wilted when the tuk tuk suddenly veered off the road and after bumping down a dusty track came to a stop on the banks of the enormous moat that surrounds the ancient city if Ankor Thom.  Manay motioned us towards a gold leaf adorned gondola with our own pilot who would scull the boat along the moat as we sat under a small awning.

As the sun set over the water, a million cicadas began to sing and Manay handed me a stiff gin and tonic and Husband a cold beer.  It was the best possible  end to an extraordinary  day.

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Sunset over the Ankor Thom Moat

 

Bangkok in 24 hours

 

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We landed in Bangkok after a fairly uneventful flight apart from endless hours of turbulence. Husband as usual slept through it all, snoring delicately while I clutched the armrests and whimpered whenever we hit a particularly vicious air pocket.

We breezed through immigration and baggage reclaim and were whisked to our hotel in an airconditioned van, weaving in and out of the gaudily coloured tuk tuks and shocking pink taxis until we arrived at the Hotel Siam right on the Chao Phraya river.  Stepping outside is exactly like stepping into a steam room fully clothed. I thought Madrid was hot in July, but it has nothing on Bangkok in May!  Luckily our hotel was fully air conditioned and after Husband had gone to the gym and I had accidentally fallen asleep while checking my emails, we jumped on the hotel’s boat to take us to dinner.

The restaurant had the rather unprepossessing name of Steve’s Bar but had been recommended as a good local Thai eatery.  Husband’s head began to loll as we sped up the river, inspite of  the amazing view  and my sharp intakes of breath due to a few near misses with small ferries and a couple of enormous barges. Steve’s Bar turned out to be a rickety shack on the river bank and after clambering off the boat, we left our shoes outside the door with thirty other pairs and sat down to some outrageously good pad thai and even some wine.

The next morning we were picked up by our smiling guide Ta, who made sure that we were correctly dressed for visiting the temples with covered shoulders and over the knee dresses for the women. Luckily you can rent a sarong if you only have shorts.

We began the day at Wat Pho and after buying our tickets crept into one of the temples where sixteen monks were chanting. They sat to one side on a slightly raised area facing the stunning golden Buddha.  The complex of Wat Pho was delightfully empty and it was easy to appreciate its extraordinary beauty. Around every corner is a gallery of golden Buddhas or an exquisite statue or temple. Gold leaf is used everywhere and the level and intricacy of the decoration is astounding.

Our next stop was the Grand Palace but in contrast to Wat Pho it was heaving with people. The majority were groups of chinese who were clutching a forest of umbrellas against the sun and selfie sticks.  Ta squared her shoulders and warning us of the danger to our eyes from the umbrella spokes, forged a path through the masses, batting at the odd aggressively wielded umbella or obtrusive selfie stick.  She even told off a young american woman who had bared her shoulders.  “But it’s sooo hot!” complained the tourist, to which Ta replied “Yes, well we are all hot. Cover up!”.  Once we got used to the crowds, the Grand Palace was no less beautiful and we enjoyed Ta’s tales of the various kings who had built it and the mythical creatures that are depicted on the walls.  Our visit to the Emerald Buddha was greatly enhanced by the spectacle of the diminutive doorman smacking a tall american man on the bottom with his sign for inadvertently sitting on a donation box.

Leaving the Grand Palace, we walked in the punishing heat through a bustling market to the river and jumped into our own long-tail boat for a trip along the Klong which is a canal that becomes quieter and more peaceful the further along you go. We passed small floating markets with women cooking and selling food from their tiny boats to the local people doing their shopping. Then as the canal became narrower, we saw ramshackle  wooden houses on stilts often leaning precariously over the water while their inhabitants went about the daily business of cooking or washing.  At one point an enormous monitor lizard sat on a wall sunning itself as we chugged past.

We just had time to visit Wat Arun with its marvellous spires covered in chinese porcelain and rows of chinese lions.  Ta then took us back to the river where we caught a ferry to the opposite bank and made our way to a restaurant.

Lunch consisted of a delicious green curry in an air conditioned restaurant back on the bank of the main river which felt like the height of luxury after the gruelling  heat outside. We had time to properly cool down and rehydrate before we said goodbye to Bangkok and Ta took us to the airport for our onward flight to the next part of our trip, Siem Reap in Cambodia.