Our time in Phuket drew to an end yesterday. Before we left, JD was keen to say goodbye to "Vicky" [below] who runs "Pegy Club", the hotel's kids activity club which JD attended a few times. He enjoyed getting face-painted as a tiger and, later, as Spider-Man.
Our plane from Phuket left at 7.20am, which meant waking up at 3am to get a taxi for the hour's drive to the airport. Two flights and another taxi and we finally arrived back home in Kunming by 3pm. Unfortunately, my recent and excessive western food intake has led to a return of the gout which used to plague me for a decade, but from which I haven't suffered for many years. My ankle is badly swollen and I'm hobbling to get around. Hopefully the medicine, some rest and a return to a more healthy diet will see it improve within a few days.
We did an island-hopping trip today. JD loved the powerful speedboat which took us around to three local islands. The promised snorkelling was a bit of a disappointment, but JD was able to see (and try to catch!) a few shoals of brave green fish who swim near the shore to be fed. The weather was good and, apart form some overcrowding on the islands, we enjoyed the half-day adventure.
Our holiday continues to be great fun. The free buffet breakfasts are great and set us up for the day, with the promise of an evening meal out at a restaurant later in the day. We've taken a local bus for 45 minutes into Phuket Old Town for some shopping, found a Tesco superstore for western goodies to bring back to China and seen a passing festival on its way to a temple.
We had seen weather forecasts threatening rain every day, but we have had dry, sometimes pleasantly overcast, days so far. We've been making good use of the swimming pools here and JD's confidence in the water has grown rapidly. He particularly loves swimming underwater and has been on the waterslide dozens of times (occasionally with me!). The warm sea and sandy beach are also within five minutes walk and we've been there a few times too.
Ava, JD and I took two plane hops down to Phuket in Thailand today. I'd been warned that the island was a touristy, nightlife nightmare but our hotel claimed to be quiet and family-friendly, and the flights were cheap, so we decided to take a chance. And it's fantastic. Our huge room has a kitchen and walk-in wardrobe and could sleep five. The balcony opens directly onto one of the four swimming pools. Downside? It's occupied by 95% Russians - "the zombies" as we call them - never smile, never interact with others, never look where they are walking. Such a dour lot. But we are looking forward to our week here.
After our brilliant visit to Disneyland a few days ago, Hong Kong's other big theme park had a lot to live up to. "Ocean Park" opened nearly 30 years before Disney and, to be honest, it showed. We made the best of the day but there were frequent disappointments and long queues for everything. JD found that nearly all the rides required him to be older or taller. We did find one roller coaster which let him on [see bottom left - we are circled in red] but even that entailed queueing for over an hour. The shows were not a patch on Disney's epics either [though I managed to take part in a kung fu demo - see bottom right].
Heavy rain showers and large crowds didn't help the atmosphere. We finished off the trip with a cable car ride and their large aquarium, which turned out to be the highlights.
We have arrived in the UK and are spending the first few days at my parents in Sidcup. They met us at the airport with a huge hand-drawn Welcome sign and pork pies! It's really hot here, so Ava is loving their beautiful garden while JD is loving "helping" by digging up spuds and watering the vegetables. As for me,I'm relishing the prospect of all my favourite "unobtainable" dishes such as casserole, fish-n-chips, toad-in-the-hole and rhubarb crumble ...oh and a large Wetherspoons breakfast which is planned for tomrrow morning. So happy to see my old folks after 1.5 years away and 24 hours of travelling. Let the holidays begin!
We're back in Bangkok. Ava has been keen to visit the Erawan Shrine; not the largest temple in Bangkok but the most famous. She said she wanted to pray to the Buddha there (depite me pointing out that it was actually a statue of Brahma, a Hindu god!). Beside the shrine are a groups of musicians and dancers who will perform for a fee as you pray. It was fun to watch them, but they must get so bored!
I'd read that the Erawan shrine was the target of a bombing last year, killing 27 people so, when I saw an unattended backpack on a bench, I thought it wise to alert one of the guards. He rather sheepishly explained it was his bag and quickly moved it out of sight. Better safe than sorry!
JD is loving the sea, the beach and the swimming pool, usually in that order. If pushed, his favourite would be digging. The sea and pool are warm enough to swim in (just), though the beating sun limits how long you can stay out. But with our hotel room a few minutes away we can pop out and indulge whenever we like [Ava and JD below].
We've arrived in Bangkok, Thailand and settled into our nice hotel. The swimming pool is chillier than we hoped, but we've been given a free upgrade to larger rooms which is a bonus - JD and I in one, and Ava and Ma-in-law next door. We spent today at a rather touristy centre outside of Bangkok.
It was all a lot more expensive than we had been promised but, once there, we felt we had to do some of the activities on offer. So we hired a river boat to see the floating market (most of the shops were on land!) and then JD and I had a short elephant ride.
Today we visited a Tropical Forest Park. We had imagined it as fairly pristine and untouched but, this being China, it was actually a bit touristy with concrete paths guiding you past various tropical, signposted plants and trees. Animatronic elephants and monkeys screamed as you approached them - a bit sad considering this area used to boast large numbers of the real thing. We did enjoy the treetop walk though - rope bridges strung up at canopy level (50m high) to give you a new appreciation of how tall rainforest trees actually are. JD clearly has no fear of heights as he scampered between the bouncing and swaying bridges!
We have only praise for the generosity of our friends here, but our daily routine of breakfast, 2hr drive to a village, a banquet, play mahjong or wander around, another banquet and another 2hr drive back to the hotel ...it can get a little tiring after a while. We try to keep JD amused as best we can [the photo on the left was taken on the back of a pick-up jeep over bumpy roads] and look for things of interest along the way. His big love at the moment is construction machines of all types and thankfully (or not?) XiShuangBanna is developing very fast and we play a version of "Excavator I-spy" on our travels.
XiShuangBanna still has some untouched forest areas, but they're disappearing fast and more commonly seen now are banana plantations and rows upon rows of rubber trees, which we enjoyed seeing up close.
The food we have been treated to has largely been local dishes, fresh from the fields. Apparently, our hosts have tried to "dial down the chilli" for my sake, which is kind, though I hadn't noticed! The occasional dish has raised eyebrows, however, such as these bamboo grubs. Crunchy and with a smoky flavour, they are a bit like a packet of Monster Munch ...with legs.
We find ourselves in sub-tropical XiShuangBanna, in the far south of Yunnan near the border with Laos. We were picked up last night by "Dancing" Man and Lady and he bravely drove the 12 hours overnight to MengLa town where we have checked into a rather swish hotel.
The "Dancing" family have good friends down here who are looking after us with banquets, free accomodation and various activities planned. The first of these today was fishing, which JD thoroughly enjoyed, showing no fear of the flapping, sharp-finned little fish!
After a few hours emptying the pond, we wandered around in the countryside a bit, finding a chilly little stream. With temperatures here in the mid-30s, JD couldn't resist, so he took a dip. After ten minutes, and with no warning at all, the heavens suddenly opened and a torrential downpour threatened to drench us before we got to the car - crossing the stream and climbing the bank wasn't as easy as it looked, with sharp stones and thorny bushes!
Once we'd dried off, we headed back to our hotel where JD and I enjoyed a more conventional swim in their outdoor complementary swimming pool, full of kids who had seemingly never seen a foreigner before, let alone a western child!
It turns out that one of Ava's newer cutomers has a time-share in a rather snazzy hotel by FuXian Lake, about 2 hours drive from Kunming and when she very kindly offered us a couple of nights there for free, we jumped at the chance.
The room was huge (supposedly 5 star) and the view through the wall-sized window was just stunning [see above]. In the centre you can see a man-made beach. On arrival, we made straight for that and JD, having only been used to a sandpit before, loved every moment [see left]. It was fairly overcast and very windy, however, so we didn't stay too long. Here's hoping for some better weather tomorrow.
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