People can be forgiven for thinking that my husband and I are permanently on holidays.
It is not true! It is just that we spend a lot of time living out of suitcases in interesting locations. Last week, for example, we were living in the lap of four-star luxury on the tropical island of Phuket – thanks to a very special deal that a friend of ours had bought and couldn’t use. But, we spent most of that time tied to our computers. Granted, the fact that it was unseasonably windy and wet – even by rainy season standards – made it easier to stay focussed on work.
Still, we made a point of scheduling some “tourist” time. Monday we took the day off as a reward for diligence, and went on a “Big Boat” trip to the limestone islands of Phang Nga Bay. We were incredibly lucky with our timing: the rain was intermittent, rather than incessant, and the seas were calm. For the two to three days following, Phuket was battered by torrential rains and gale-force winds, and we were again pretty much trapped indoors.
Touring in Thailand is much more enjoyable if you prepare for almost anything, turn your brain into neutral, and take what comes. Put your bathers under your clothes, put valuables in waterproof bags and bring your own towels. Don’t be surprised if your transportation is five minutes early or half an hour late. Be ready to hunch up in the front of a van cab, squashed, with your belongings on your lap, between the person at the door and the gear shift, or wedged in the back of a truck with center-facing seating. Stay good humoured when, almost two hours after your stated collection time, you are still faffing about on the pier and your boat is nowhere in sight…
For even on the pier there are people to meet and things to explore.
Thailand truly is an amazing and colourful place. I’ve visited Ao Phang Nga National Park several times before (always on clear sunny days) and it is unbelievably beautiful. Even in inclement weather, it is impressive. And many of the colours – natural and man-made – still shine through.
Because of the large group, the kayaks went out in two shifts. Once our turn arrived, and we were in our kayak, the winds lifted and the skies opened up. I was very glad my camera was in its water-proof bag, for we looked like drowned rats. My hat went flying into the sea, where I thought it would sink and be lost, but our boatman skilfully brought us around to rescue it, before heading into the dark cave full of bats.
I’ve seen better stalactites, but our boatman was clearly proud of them as he pointed out fancifully-named formations using his head lamp, so we ooh-ed and ah-ed dutifully, snapping bad pictures with our iPhones. At least it was dry, and the bat smell eased off as we paddled further into the cave system.
When we came out, the skies were still gloomy, but the rains had stopped.
As if to highlight the contrasts that Thailand offers up, the amazing sight of a veritable flock of birds of prey was shortly followed by head-pounding music and the “Ladyboy Show”. It was hard to know quite what to make of the performers as they shimmied the poles of the upper deck and gyrated around the room in outlandish wigs.