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February 9th 2020
Published: February 18th 2020
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After a night on the train it was wonderful to just enjoy a hot shower and brush my teeth properly. And in a little while I had a message from Jiab, a young Thai friend who used to be one of my students at Home End. I arranged to meet her, her children and her parents at a nearby restaurant , only 5 minutes walk from where I was staying. I felt thoroughly spoilt as they piled delicious food on my plate, and Jiab's two little children were absolutely delightful. Alba and Alfie. The family stayed with me for a night on a visit to the UK about 18 months ago, and I'd been captivated by Alba then. Alfie arrived only eight months ago I think, and although he wasn't joining in with the lunch food, he was very good humoured. We'd nearly finished all the food when Jiab's brother Chai arrived with his wife and little son, Pascal. Chai is also one of my old students .I was fascinated to hear that he'd once been a Buddhist monk at a Thai temple in the Brecon Beacons. So near to me! But as it was a silent order I wouldn't have been able to visit him at that time. However .... no silence at this family gathering! And it was another good excuse for group photographs. Although I'm not going to be in Bangkok for very long, Jiab and Chai's sister Win lives in London, so I hope we'll be able to meet up again later in the year. We said our goodbyes and I walked back to my hotel via the supermarket. So full of lunch , I just picked up some fruit and a snack for later and settled down to catch up with my blog and get up to date before Julie arrived the next day.

Julie had been on a 10 day detox at a health spa on Kho Panyang , an island 70 km off the mainland of Thailand, in the Gulf of Thailand. Her arrival in Bangkok for two days before flying home had stirred me out of my Chiangmai lethargy and instigated this trip down to Bangkok for a few days. And I want to hear all about the health spa experience! Her flight from the islands came into Suvanabhumi Airport , and I waited anxiously by the front entrance for her arrival by taxi. I'd already warned her that I had booked a VERY basic hotel/guest house and was hoping she wouldn't be too horrified after her idyllic stay on the island. But Julie is made of sterner stuff and not easily horrified, and she took the unattractive lobby area and cranky old lifts in her stride. ( Although her lady airport taxi driver looked a little bemused.... not the sort of accommodation she'd expected to deposit her passenger at!) We had a quick catch up while she had a freshen up and change, and then back downstairs to order a 'Grab' car to take us to the Siam Brasserie , where we'd been invited to lunch by Mr and Mrs Chaiwattanasirikul and their lovely daughters Jay and Pat. Brother Boy and family and sister Ann and family were unable to join us on this lunch date.... so no chance to meet the little ones in the next generation! They all started their British education at Home End Farm in Cradley, and we've kept in touch ever since and meet up regularly whenever possible. Julie entertained us with a description of her cleansing health spa ...... she certainly looked absolutely glowing with good health and vitality. We consulted the young women and asked for recommendations for a night in the Big City ..... maybe a rooftop bar to take in the city lights? I've never been able to do something like this on my recent visits to Bangkok, not having a partner in crime to check out the wild side with ! ( usually curled up with a fruit juice and a good book that needs finishing!) So Jay and Pat sent us links to various websites and recommended places that weren't too far from Ekkamai , where we are staying. The food was superb. Julie was still trying to maintain careful intake so as not to destroy all the good she's attained in her 10 day detox.

Jay gave us a lift into the city and dropped us off at Central World, one of the huge modern shopping centres alongside the BTS Skytrain. While we were in the car Julie had discovered that her glasses weren't in her bag. They must be either at the hotel or in the Grab car. Let's hope it's the hotel. We wandered in through the cosmetics and perfumery departments, enjoying trying out a few expensive fragrances, and then out into the brightly lit shopping centre. There was a Japanese opticians with some really funky frames to choose from, and at a very attractive price. So with just a little encouragement from me, Julie was whisked off for an eye test, chose some lovely teal-coloured frames, and we just had 20 minutes to entertain ourselves until they were ready. Now Julie had her super new long-distance specs, we wandered along the skywalk, past the famous Erawan shrine .... an island of calm in the midst of the busy intersection below. It's a Hindu shrine with a statue of Phra Phrom, the Thai representation of Brahma, the Hindu god of creation, and despite all the traffic around, there are always plenty of worshippers there to pay their respects.

Following the amazing mobile phone app '' we made our way across the city and down towards the river. It didn't take much for us to be lured into the cool vaulted lobby of the famous Mandarin Oriental Hotel. We enjoyed the super facilities of the Ladies Room and then decided to have afternoon tea and listen to the quintet providing gentle background music. In a past career life Julie had been to the Oriental, and in my past life with Home End School I'd stayed at the Oriental along with Jane, Becky and Sophie, as guests of the owner , when we'd been teaching his son on a residential English course we ran at Hua Hin in 1993.So we both had stories to tell each other. We enjoyed endlessly replenished tea and a rather lovely little macaron each ( the ingredients of one sounded so healthy that Julie felt she was justified in succumbing to it's charms... and never mind the sugar rush)

We booked a Grab car from the Oriental ( how easy it is ......... no more trying to explain where you want to go ........ the driver already knows and it's on his Sat Nav) and he took us back to our hotel.And the lovely ladies in reception had got Julie's lost glasses.... left on the table in the lobby when we rushed off to get in the taxi.

Actually we were both feeling a bit tired..... but we can't pass on a night out in Bangkok! So off we went to the nearest rooftop bar recommended by Jay and Pat, at the Marriott 'hotel in Sukhumvit. Just a 10 minute walk along the road. The lift whisked us up to the Octave Bar on the 49th floor and we stepped out into the open air so high in the sky it made you feel giddy, with the lights of high rise buildings down below, and just a knee wobbling clear glass plate between us and the view down below.It boasts three decks open to the night sky and a 360 degree view of Bangkok. How we congratulated ourselves for being the 'girls about town', and I reckon I was at least 40 years older than the rest of the clientele of the Octagon Bar! We managed to get a table and order a cocktail, and there we were , up on the top bar with the lights of Bangkok all around. I felt as if I was sitting in the set of a Superman movie.

Next morning we made amends and Julie searched for an organic, vegan breakfast cafe nearby! Broccoli Revolution provided the perfect answer.Totally on trend with healthy drinks and breakfasts ( and including the Burmese fermented tea salad I've grown so fond of) Feeling that our health was restored we ventured back out onto the streets of Bangkok, where we hope the healthy protection of Broccoli Revolution food will help to counteract the pollutants from city vehicles that grab your throat. Many people on the streets of Bangkok wear masks to protect against the car exhausts, but now that Coronavirus is hitting the headlines many more people are wearing masks ( mostly , as we know, are ineffective )

Today's mission : to track down some Thai stainless steel cutlery.

Julie is looking for a particular design to add to the cutlery at Clover Mill , and I want more cake forks and teaspoons to match the ones I bought about 5 years ago. It's become an ongoing joke that I search for them every year in Chiang Mai, and I had realised this year that they are produced in Bangkok , so I'm not likely to find a good choice up here in the North. Julie had an address for a stainless steel cutlery manufacturer from a friend who managed to get her some once before in Bangkok. So we hired a Grab car outside Broccoli Revolution and set off. The ride took us down by the docks and then into a residential area, and a wild goose chase that ended up in a gated community with high walls around substantial properties. The perplexed driver used his phone to call the company and Julie spoke to a woman who said she only sold wholesale and that there was nobody in the office anyway. So we graciously gave up and got the driver to drop us off at the nearest BTS station. We decided that Plan B would have to be back to the shops near the Oriental Hotel, where Julie had originally bought hers. So after a restorative coffee( with the obligatory fancy patterned topping) we started walking down the streets towards the Oriental, distracted by the shops crammed with piles of stones and crystals of every variety.... just beautiful. Then we both did a double take and a backwards walk to a little shop we'd nearly walked past .... with cutlery in the window. In through the door and the whole shop was floor to ceiling cutlery and just the designs we were looking for. The shopkeeper was a lovely Thai lady who must have been in her 80's, slim , elegant and refined and with a good command of English. I was delighted to find my cake forks, and the teaspoons to match, and Julie set to work on her cutlery shopping list. She had a good edge on the bargaining power as the packets of forks, spoons and knives began to pile up on the counter, and the discourse was fun and good natured. This lady, Madam Boon, was so lovely , we were glad to give her our business ( and my forks were half the price I'd bargained them down to in Chiangmai) Photographs were taken and we promised to return on our next cutlery-buying trip. As we left the shop we joked that now she could pull down the shutters and put her elegant feet up for the rest of the day.

So pleased were we to be so successful with the cutlery project, that we headed on down to the Mandarin Oriental and took a riverside table at the restaurant. Who mentioned champagne first? Well, it soon seemed the perfect refreshment with which to celebrate our shopping success. After all, when will we sit at the Mandarin Oriental , on the banks of the Chao Phraya river to celebrate a cutlery purchase ever again? So we also ordered delicate asparagus tips and Vietnamese spring rolls to accompany our glasses of champagne, and toasted our good fortune.

The Oriental has beautiful wooden boats with carved canopies which pull up at the hotel and ferry their customers to local destinations along the river ( I remembered that Kath and Bob took one to the BTS train station the year they came with me to Prinn's wedding at the hotel) So we boarded the next boat, and sailed graciously along the river to the next BTS station, back to our hotel in Ekkamai, quick shower and change and walked the 200metres down soi 61 to Counting Sheep Corner. This is Bibi's husband Tui's bar-restaurant and her interior design company , Loam, is situated next door.

My brother-in-law Kiong was seated outside enjoying a beer with some Singaporean friends. He has an apartment in Bangkok and we'd arranged to meet here. He was anxious to go off to dinner with his friends so we didn't put pressure on him to come inside, but I arranged to meet him for lunch the next day and possibly to stay at his place after Julie has left , until I return to Chaingmai.

It's difficult for my young friends to meet here after work. Their working days are so long and the Bangkok traffic jams are infamous. But I was delighted to meet up with Tar, Num and Bai with his family : wife Toon, and gorgeous children , Arthur and Eartha. Tar told of his newest exciting work project. Num presented me with a much appreciated bag of chilli garlic ( to which I am addicted) I can't find it here in Chiangmai, but Num is going to order some more on line and get it to me before I go home. She also entertained us with an account of the tests she took to become an airline pilot ( yes - she can fly those big planes!) She's self-grounded at the moment as she has two little girls. Bai told us about his alternative lifestyle and the home schooling of his six year old, Arthur. Julie and I were both much impressed with Arthur. Little Eartha , only 2 months old, didn't grumble, wriggle or winge even once .... just calmly watched us all. Then Mao turned up - and , as he reminded me , the last time I saw him was 29 years ago when I took him off to his first term at Kingham School in the Cotswolds. He looked just the same ( and he kindly said that I did too!!- What a gentleman!) He runs a company called Dylan Films and they make commercials for TV. He is devoted to his two lovely corgi dogs and is addicted to wilderness camping in the Thai countryside. I told him I want to go too! Next time! ( the problem being that I am not comfortable with the camping concept in reality!) Others who had intended to join us were delayed at work, or in traffic. Again - next time.

We walked back to the hotel and Julie packed her suitcase. I was delighted that she's taking a few things back for me too, which will lighten my luggage. Next morning I walked down to the lobby with her and waved her off to the airport. I thought I'd better see if I could book my return to Chiangmai, but couldn't make head nor tail of the train booking system, so after a healthy breakfast in Broccoli Revolution I travelled by BTS to the train station. At the ticket office I was shocked ! There were no sleepers and no daytime seats left on any of the trains to Chiangmai for Thursday or Friday. Only one bottom bunk sleeper on the 7.30pm train tonight. So I bought it and hurried back to the hotel to bundle my belongings into my bag and check out. I took a train to the Arnoma Hotel where I had arranged to meet my brother-in-law Kiong. I wanted to use the tickets I'd bid for in Dorothy's charity auction : buffet lunch for two at the Arnoma. We had a good chat and a beer over lunch, said our goodbyes, and I set off for the station. I arrived about three hours early, but I didn't want to get stuck in Bangkok rush hour traffic. And I took Kiong's advice and googled for a massage spa near the station. There were a few scary roads to negotiate, trundling my wheeled bag behind me, but I got to the hotel . The lobby was deserted a, and I wasn't quite sure if the place was ok, but I got into the lift to 14th floor and there was a fitness centre and the spa looked lovely. I had a body oil massage and reflexology massage of my feet with oil too. It was two hours well spent and I fairly drifted safely back across the intersection to the train station and was able to get straight on the train. They made the beds up right away, and although the train was older that the one I'd come to Bangkok on, and rattling , worn ,and grotty loos - I sept soundly and just woke up an hour before we came into Chiangmai. So I thoroughly recommend taking a massage before you take a long journey .... and I'll see if it's possible to do that before I fly back to Europe.

From the station I took a red song thaew to Baan Songjum where Nui and Kung were surprised to see me back so soon ( and hadn't seen my email warning of my imminent arrival) The old house was nearly as busy as the train station with people coming and going and suitcases all around the shared area under the house. They'd rented out my room as there'd been surprise guests, unexpected. But never mind.... I messaged Dorothy and she offered me a bed for a couple of days, as she also had some friends staying with her from the UK.

Dorothy picked me up from Baan Songjum and we went to lunch further along the river with her house guests Paul and Debbie from London, and another German couple who are retired and live in Chiangmai. We went to a famous Khao Soy restaurant ( Northern curry soup) and then took iced coffees and sat down by the river . It was very pleasant and we all remarked on the peace and quiet and how could this be at the centre of a busy city. While we were there several young Thai people came down to pray and release fish into the river. Nui says it releases someone from pain , so maybe they have a sick relative. Luckily all the fishermen seemed to be upriver from the fish releasers!. We went back to Dorothy's , I released my creased Bangkok clothes from the little bag, had a shower and a G+T and we were all ready for dinner at The Swan Burmese Restaurant down near Thae Pae Gate.

Next day Paul and Debbie went off early for a Thai Cooking course out on a farm in the country. Dorothy and I chatted over breakfast and talked to Kath in Singapore about the arrangements for when we come to stay at the end of the month. Dorothy was also getting anxious about the Coronavirus news. There are more cases in Singapore than in Thailand and she was worried that going to Singapore might restrict her future travel prospects. Sometimes looking at internet websites and news bulletins can build up anxiety.

I went to the nearby shopping centre, Kad Suan Kaew, with Dorothy and we had some Vietnamese salad for lunch. Feeling healthy again! Though I'd give Dorothy a break as her other visitors would be out all day .... so I walked up to the trendy area of town, Nimmanhaemin and the Maya shopping centre. I went in search of those Japanese children's day fish flags that I had hanging in the tree at Home End last year. Gutted to find that there weren't any. I pottered around for a few hours and then came back to change.I'd arranged to meet Louise for dinner. She's the glass artist who used to live in Bangkok, and now lives in the South-East. She's back here to try and sell her beautiful house in the countryside.So we met at The House restaurant and managed to catch up with all her news. We're all a bit anxious about Coronavirus and the impact it may have on our journey home. But there's really nothing we can do about it. So the red dress got another airing and had another delicious Thai meal.

Because of all the chatting it was gone 11pm when I got back to Dorothy's house and I felt bad that she'd had to wait up for me. Paul and Debbie had gone to bed , exhausted by the cooking class and by having to eat the fruits of their labour before they came home! But Dorothy's stern aspect was not due to the lateness of my return. She'd had a bit of a fright when it sounded like something/ someone banging up and down on the sloping roof of her Thai kitchen at the back of the house. She'd yelled and the noise had stopped.... but the ceiling panel was quite dented. We inspected as much as we could and then went to bed. Surely it couldn't have been a person. Too heavy for a cat, how would a dog get up there.... maybe a monkey or a large lizard ... or heaven forbid ... a snake! The house backs on to some temple grounds with lots of overgrown vegetation. Brain spinning , it took a while to get off to sleep .

Already the trip to Bangkok seems ages away. I've agreed to join Dorothy, Paul and Debbie in the morning to walk from the bottom to the top of Doi Suthep Mountain. I did it about 5 years ago when Kath and Bob were here too, and found it quite challenging. Oh dear ... am I up for it?

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