We cross the river and disembark on the Thai side where lorries wait patiently to cross to Laos.Will our luggage follow us from Laos in the next boat about a minute later than us as promised? Fortunately it does, what a relief!
Immigration formalities are slightly better than when we crossed fromVietnam to Cambodia and I suppose we could have just walked up the hill and made our own way around Thailand. Or there again, we might have been spotted walking past the border control post. There were so many people there though it would have been so easy to miss it so we opted to conform and got our passports stamped.
The Anantara resort and spa is about an hour away and we arrive just as cocktails are being served to celebrate the King’s 85th birthday. Shame we really were too late to join in the festivities.
Thursday 6 December
We can see both Laos and Burma from our bedroom window and although it is not overly picturesque, to see three countries from your hotel bedroom window is probably a first.
For each day we are here we are entitled to a free activity; boat ride into Burma, elephant trekking, massages galore and a two hour session with the baby elephants learning about their welfare etc. Sylvia, Sal and I chose the two hours with the elephants which was interesting and were guided around by Rachael, from Hawick, although the time spent was only about 90 minutes possibly because she wanted to get away to catch planes home for a Christmas break.
We learnt about the different types of elephant, their ever decreasing numbers; there may be no wild elephants left in Rachael’s lifetime she says, their health and go through a routine that a vet would do on a monthly basis. Female elephants are all together and the males do nothing for the welfare of the babies.
The elephants are then led down a path and enjoy a splash in the water from a hose which we are encouraged to point at them. The baby is led back up the path and the two adults down to join the other adults in the fields adjacent to the river bordering Thailand and Burma.
Lunch by the pool, Sal off for a pedicure and manicure and Dinner tonight in the Italian restaurant at the hotel. These all inclusive hotels are good, no spending any more money on food or drink!
As it is our last night here, the hotel has a tradition of setting off lanterns with our names on. So, after the meal, Mr Richard, Mrs Sally, Mr Phillip and Mrs Sylvia get lit and float up into the night sky.No wind so they go straight up which in itself is amazing. They could be visible for probably 5 minutes before they seemed to find a cloud layer and drift northwards towards Burma.
Friday 7 December
A massage is planned for me as part of the package, now that will be a first! I go through the registration process, get led into a room with a couch, told to put on a gown, slippers and brief disposable undies on. Being a massage virgin, I have no idea how to answer the question, “what type of massage do you want” and then when I have chosen, oil seemed the best option, to be asked, “what part of the body do you wish me to concentrate on” seems bizarre as I thought the whole body.
A foot wash later and I am on the couch, face down peering through a hole in the couch at a bowl with a flower in which I somewhat irreverently likened to a sick bucket.
The hour passes with, nearly, every part of me rubbed in oil. Glad I didn’t go for the other massage which, I understand now involves being stood upon. Not sure my back was up to that. Relax further at poolside.
A stay at the Anantara Resort Hotel and Spa on an all inclusive package is around £700 per night. I wonder if the coffee sachets they leave in the room are the ones we read about in Sunday’s paper that sell for $50 a serving – Elephant poop coffee: a pricey cuppa from the North”.
To the airport we go and our flight to Bangkok and the end of a lovely stay at a lovely hotel, The Anantara, a definite must come back moment. At the airport we pass through security as soon as we enter the airport building here which was a bit off putting. Rubbish meal on the plane so it is just as well we stocked up in the business lounge beforehand.
Met at Bangkok airport and driven for about two hours, mostly at 120km per hour to a jetty where we board a speed boat to Koh Samet.
Disembarking onto a small wooden jetty it becomes a feet wetting moment as we move from the jetty to the sand with the water lapping around us. Straight up the beach to the hotel, or so we thought, as this is not ours and we retreat, tails between our legs and get shown to our hotel having to pass through a number of areas that can probably best be described as Greek Taverna like in appearance before we reach our lodge. I must say that I was expecting more from these four days in accommodation but then it is all about managing expectations. Cold steak sandwich for a late dinner by the beach and Internet only available in the reception area but a welcome Christmas Tree!
Saturday 8 December
Well, first impressions may have been a bit deceptive but this is still not what we had hoped for.Nevertheless, a day with a swimming pool just behind us and the warm sea just in front of us is very relaxing albeit that we have to move several times to get out of the searing heat.
Skype with Sarah & Harry who is nearly walking, dinner by the beach watching fire dancers and a Skype with Flic.
Sunday 9 December
Slightly cloudier and cooler today but not much. Went through Christmas promises list which seemed to take ages but we ordered most things. Mr. Amazon is going to be kept busy. Managed a walk to end of bay and back in the sea, probably half a mile in total!
So sad to read about the fire at the night market at Siem Reap that claimed 8 lives including 4 children. To think we were only there on 30 November and now over 100 stalls also destroyed due to an electrical fault. Seeing the state of the street wires, it is not surprising though that there are faults and fires.
Monday 10 December
Our penultimate day! Clear blue skies again and searing heat at midday. Sally, Sylvia and I go on the back of a green pick up truck with benches that masquerades as a taxi into the only village on the other side of the island, Samet village
To say the road is uneven is the understatement of the century: potholes, ruts and mostly just dirt track and we take about 15 minutes for a journey of about 2km.
Just don’t try leaning back on the support rail, you will not like the bruising. Samet village is just a few shops, is very dirty and is populated mainly by the younger set with clothing stores to match.Sal did find a couple of bargains though and it certainly was an experience. Nothing to tempt us to drink or eat so we head back for lunch, a rest, a swim in the sea and watch the crabs emerge from their holes in the sand just before sunset.
Tuesday 11 December
Our last day!!!!
We have a late check out and spend much of the time before our 5pm departure in the sea. I don’t think I have spent so much time in the sea for a long time, a bonus really after all our travels.
Departure is quirky to say the least as the shallow water prevents the speed boat from getting too close to the moveable landing pier and beach so each of us in turn clambers onto the luggage trolley to be moved 10 ft forward to avoid getting our feet wet.
Lovely sunset over the bay as we speed to the mainland and a short trip in an oversized golf cart to the terminal to await our transport to Bangkok airport.
As we sit in the lounge awaiting our departure, I decide to go for a walk to see what the airport has to offer. 6th sense or what, but I bump into my friend Donald and his partner Ray! They had spent a few days in Bangkok before returning to Manilla. Another co-incidence to add to the many I have encountered on my travels over the years.
I hadn’t really seen or spoken to Donald for many years so Sal and I had a good catch up with Donald for about 20 minutes.
Wednesday 12 December
It is -6.5C when we reach Phillip & Sylvia’s with the trees covered in frost: what a contrast to 24 hours ago, swimming in sea more like bath water temperature.
Unfortunately, Andrea, Phillip and Sylvia’s daughter was unwell whilst we were away so Phillip & Sylvia go to see her and we go and see Flic, stay overnight at Walsall before catching the ferry back home to the dreadful weather the following day.
32 nights, 4 countries, air, road, boat, bicycle and elephant transport that took us over in excess of 4500 miles, excluding flights from the UK to Bangkok. 16 hotel, train and boat bedrooms, countless prepared and restaurant meals, loads of memories, over 2400 photos and countless souvenirs / gifts. One amazing adventure, shared with Phillip & Sylvia.
What were our highlights?
We have been asked what was the highlight of our visit and I for one have found this difficult to answer so here is a list of “likes” and “not likes”
Ariysum Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand
Halong Bay, Vietnam, especially the kayaking
Walking with tribespeople near Sapa, Vietnam
Saigon war tunnels, Vietnam
S21 & the killing fields, Cambodia
Angkor complex, Cambodia
Visit to orphanage, Cambodia
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Elephant riding, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos
Mekong cruise, Laos
Sea swimming, Au Prau resort, Thailand
What were the downsides?
Crowds at Bangkok temple
Journey from Hanoi to Halong Bay
Transport (transit type vans)
Guide at Siem Reap
Hotel at Luang Prabang, Laos
Early morning rises!
I’m templed and noodled out!!