On Wednesday, Nellie, Floss, Flower and Monk caught a Bangkok Airways flight from Bangkok to Phuket and travelled down to the far south west of the island to Kata Yai where they are staying at the Boathouse
The hotel was the first to be established in this part of the island and hasn't lost any of its charm over the years. The rooms are not particularly large and the bathrooms are a bit dated, but the whole place exudes a certain exclusive charm that might be spoilt by an unsympathetic refurbishment.
Nellie, Monk and the girls ate in the Boathouse restaurant and at 11pm they lit a lantern in memory of Irene and Monk launched it from the beach in front of the Boathouse. They watched it float upwards and away until the tiny speck of light was no longer visible.
On Thursday, they all spent a lazy day relaxing on the beach and enjoying the comforts and hospitality of the Boathouse. The Boathouse has sunbeds on the beach in front of the hotel and this stretch of beach seems to be reserved making it feel as though one is in a much quieter location than
the busy Phuket beach that this is. The flunkies from the hotel are on-hand all day serving cold drinks and fruit to the hotel guests so one does feel a bit pampered.
In the evening, Floss and Flower lit lanterns on the beach for Irene.
Koh Chang Elephant Camp
On Friday, after a lazy start, they all took a tuk-tuk to an elephant camp a couple of kilometres outside Kata on the road to Nai Han. The camp, Koh Chang, has six or so elephants and you can just pop in there to watch them munching their way through tree branches and have a coffee or a beer in the bar wthout needing to go for a ride. It's a small set-up so, with a bit of luck, there are never hordes of other tourists around. The elephants are so beautiful and majestic, and so intelligent. There are also 3 monkeys there at the moment but the owner told Monk that he was negotiating to send them to a proper zoo because they were a problem now they are older and becoming too vicious to allow them out of their cage. When Irene and Monk first came
here they were babies and they had the run of the bar. They were very playful and Irene was captivated by them. Irene and Monk went back several times to see the monkeys as well as the elephants.
The elephant ride is very exciting. The elephants first climb a steep hill on a track through the jungle and past rubber trees. This gets one used to the precarious feeling of being perched so high up on a rocking and rolling elephant. Once acclimatised, one has to come back down again via another track and that's where the real fun starts.
Floss and Flower took one elephant and Monk and Nellie took the other. Flower had to sit on the bareback elephant behind the mahout. Irene had ridden bareback when her and Monk had taken the ride in 2006 as you can see in the pictures. It takes some bravery to do it because there's nothing to hold onto except the elephant's ears.
Monk's elephant was in front and he could hear the screams and shouts from Floss and Flower as they followed behind.
They all survived though and agreed it was jolly good elephant fun. The
bar is handy for a stiff drink afterwards - or maybe before the elephant ride.
Irene and Monk first came to the Boathouse in 2002 and Irene fell in love with the place. It's a very welcoming and comfortable hotel with a certain faded charm. One feels like one has the privilege of experiencing an institutuion of a bygone era before it slips away. The restaurant is renowned in its own right and serves execellent Thai cuisine. Whenever Irene and Monk had travelled in Thailand since, Irene always wanted to head south to Phuket, if only for a couple of days at the Boathouse.
Irene and Monk had some special times down here and Monk wasn't sure about the wisdom of coming back. On checking in, they asked where Irene was and you can imagine Monk's reaction to that. Even though coming here has triggered a lot of sadness for Monk, so many happy memories of times together here have been flooding back and have helped to drive away the black clouds.
Food, cooking and local ingredients and dishes were always a major part of Irene and Monk's travels and on one visit to
the Boathouse, Irene joined the Thai cookery course which is run personally by the Boathouse's highly-respected chef Tummanoon Punchun. While Irene was in the oustide kitchen beside the beach, Monk stayed in his normal spot on the beach sheltering under a palm tree. As she cooked each dish, Irene would pass a sample over the wall for Monk's approval. The certificate from the course hangs in Irene's kitchen.
Irene absolutely loved cooking and Monk led a gourmet existence during all his years with Irene. The dining table was the focus of their evenings together for both food and conversation. Irene cooked from fresh ingredients every day and it's been an inspiration for Monk to continue cooking properly each night since Irene left. He feels a sense of calm when he's preparing and cooking in Irene's kitchen and it helps him feel close to her. It's also the one room in the house that Monk ensures is kept clean and tidy as Irene would want it - she was always so happy in her kitchen.
Irene had shelf upon shelf of cookbooks of all types of cuisine. As one of her Christmas presents each year, Monk would subscribe her
to the BBC Good Food magazine. He found the April 2009 edition which she'd received and had been reading while she was ill and undergoing chemotherapy. Ten or so pages had sticky post-it-markers for recipes she'd planned to cook. One page even marked a new set of saucepans she was obviously thinking of buying. Even at that stage, she was still so positive and didn't let the disease stop her from looking forward to the future. One of the dishes she'd marked has become one of Monk's favourites and, in time, he'll cook each of those dishes that Irene was unable to cook herself. From all her cut-out recipes and hand-written scraps of paper, Monk has tried to find some of the dishes Irene cooked for him, unfortunately, he fears many came from memory and were never written down.
At Christmas, Irene would bake a Christmas cake to take to Eastleigh for the family Christmas get-together. In Christmas 2008, she tried a new recipe which Monk managed to locate when Joanna, Irene's niece, asked for the recipe for Auntie Irene's Christmas Cake
for the Christmas just past. Joanna made it so well, it was delicious, so Monk hopes that
the recipe will continue on in Joanna's family (which starts in April this year with the first baby girl - or will it be a boy?).
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