Thailand – Part 3

Thailand – Part 3

Marble Palace Bangkok

Last week in – Part 2 – you will have read about temples, food and food safety, prostitution and Chang Mai. The week before in – Part 1 – I gave some statistics, spoke on how to get around and about Bangkok.

Beach at resort hotel in Phuket

Getting away from the heady, heavy cities and out to unspoilt beaches is one of the best parts of visiting Thailand. You can book an all inclusive week at one of the resorts and relax, soak up the sun and enjoy buffets of delicious Thai food. The hotels usually have reps from the tour companies at hand. They have catalogues with pictures and descriptions of their tours and day trips. Think glass bottomed boats, fishing, island hopping, snorkeling and diving, learning Thai crafts such as fruit carving and Thai cookery. The resorts also have regular shuttle buses that do round trips so you can pop into town or try out the various local beaches. You may find better prices if you go into the town and chat to other tour operators.

Resort hotel bedroom

I would recommend you have as many Thai massages as you can while in Thailand. They are dead cheap and these ladies manage to take the kinks and knots out of your muscles and joints. Thai massage – is quite different to a Swedish or Sports massage. You are usually clothed and no oils are used. Thai ladies pick up your limbs and twist and rotate them. They roll you about and rearrange you. They press and prod you. It sounds uncomfortable but it’s not. You let yourself go limp and they do all the work and it is heavenly. The other bonus is a Thai massage is around 2 hours long.

Traditional clothing of the hill tribe ladies in Chang Mai

Make sure you keep space in your suitcase for shopping in Thailand. You can have a custom made suit or outfits run up by one of the many tailors. You can also find designer knock offs or over runs. Just be aware that bringing home designer imitations can be illegal in some countries. How about carved wooden items to hand crafted jewelry? You can buy CDs, fabrics and really just about anything from flip flops to pots and pans – dirt cheap. My best was the night market in Chang Mai. Night markets are common in Thailand. But a regular to Chang Mai reckons the Sunday market there is even better. Do try on or at least measure clothes against your body as Asian sizes are smaller.

Wood carving

Every country has some unique saying or custom and Thailand is no exception. Thais positively adore their royal family despite them being fairly remote from their people it’s an offence and deeply insulting to say anything bad about the Royal family. Another custom is to stand to attention when the national anthem called the “Pheng Chat” in Thai and meaning ‘national song’ is played. They play it every morning at 8.00am and every evening at 18.00 pm. Westerners only need keep still.

More Buddhas

Thailand is for the most part safe. They have some crazy festivals. In particular the – Songkran – festival, when they throw water on each other. see here. A friend had his camera ruined when he was caught in the thick of a waterfest. It’s also unwise to carry huge amounts of cash on you. Rather draw cash you need to which is easy to do in Thailand.

Every now and again you get uprisings between the – red shirts and yellow shirts. The uprisings are soon contained but can cause road closures and other inconveniences. A hat and sunblock in such a hot country are mandatory. Especially on walks and excursions.

Best time to visit? Between November and February. It’s cooler then and it’s also less likly to rain. Between March and May temperatures soar above 40’C and it is unbearably hot. July to October is the rainy season.

Here are links to sites that offer accommodation in Thailand – Agoda, Asia rooms, Hotel Thailand and Sawadee. It’s a common gesture to leave a tip on the pillow for the cleaners who serviced your room.

For more ideas on what to do and where to go visit the following Thai-blogs, Go Thailand, Bangkok, and Chang Mai.

Red truck taxi in Chang Mai

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Holiday horror stories – (Not) Welcome to the UK

Holiday horror stories – (Not) Welcome to the UK

Lake Windemere Lake District

This experience changed me forever. I have heard horror stories regarding customs and immigration officials before, but you know how it is when someone tells a story. It’s not happening to you and so you laugh, or sympathise, or whatever is appropriate, and move on to the next subject.

The background to this story is that my now husband, at this time he was my civil partner, does contract work in the oil industry. He holds a British passport and his family live in the UK, but he grew up in South Africa and we have a home together in Cape Town.

Banksy’s wall art in London

I travel back and forth so we can spend time together. As a South African passport holder, back then, we were commonwealth members and eligible to come to the UK for a maximum period of 6 months without a visa.

My partner had been working hard in Scotland and had planned for me to join him in the UK. From there we were heading off to Croatia for a few weeks holiday before he went back to work, and shortly after, I would return to South Africa.

Temple Wood stone circle

I duly arrived at Heathrow Airport and we spent a night or two in London with his aunt. Next we flew from Gatwick Airport to Dubrovnik where we had a wonderful holiday. On our return my partner went through immigration via the ‘UK Passport Holders’ section and I went where ‘All Other Passport Holders’ go.

St Pancras Station where the Eurostar departs

As I handed my passport to the woman helping me she asked why I had come to the UK only to leave a few days later. I explained. This wasn’t good enough for her. The questioning went on and on and the more I tried to explain the less this woman would hear me. I asked her what the problem

was. What had I done wrong? Then she became downright rude. She said that I couldn’t come and go as I pleased and she knew “my sort”. She threatened to deport me. To say I was shocked and upset would be a complete understatement.

I’m sorry to say that the situation actually got even worse. I explained to her that my partner would be worrying about where I was. She then told me that . . . . if my partner wanted me to be with him  . . . . .  he would have married me. 

I may come from Africa, which is viewed as third-world by some, but I have never been spoken to like that back home.

Narrow boating on the canals in Cheshire

I was ordered to sit. This woman helped the next person to arrive and ignored me. And she helped the next person. And the next . . . . 
I sat there. And sat. And sat.

Eventually my other half realised something was wrong and started looking for me. He made his way back into immigration trying to find me. I saw him and got up to wave and let him know I was stuck and no-one was helping me. This woman ordered me to sit back down. 

My husband realised there was a problem, found someone in authority and had a word. The person my husband spoke to came let me go. She suggested I get a multi-entry visa in future. Which I did.

My story is not unique. I know plenty South Africans who have had harrowing ordeals at the hands of the UK Border Control staff. I can’t help but notice that people who hold passports from so called ‘first world’ countries have far less of a problem than those who have other passports.

Covent Garden London

But I have heard even worse stories from people who have traveled to the USA. Being a member of the ‘first world’ passport holders club doesn’t help there. My husband missed a flight because he stood in a queue for so long, despite allowing more than the required time to board his flight. Meanwhile his cousin had a similar tale in a USA immigration queue. Babies were going without their feeds and diabetics were collapsing from waiting so long to move through immigration. Both have vowed never to set foot in the USA ever again.

Which begs the question, why would countries treat enthusiastic visitors with such disdain? I realise that many countries face huge problems with immigrants entering illegally. I understand these immigrants take jobs and benefits from people. But scaring off visitors or family members who come to spend money is hardly the way to go about solving the problem. Many people are too scared to visit the UK or USA because of other people’s horror stories. The balance of power is shifting and many ‘third world’ countries have stronger economies and visitors with money to spend. A debt strapped country could surely benefit from visitors.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a handful of people with a little bit of power and they totally misuse it. What would have happened if I had traveled alone, if my partner wasn’t British and if he hadn’t rescued me? I suspect if that woman had her way I would have been deported.

Cardiff Castle

So how did this change me? My partner and I got married. We try to arrive in the UK together. My husband always comes through ‘All Other Passport Holders’ section together with me now. Apparently Brits can enter any side they want.

We also make sure I travel with every possible document and all our travel information at hand so I am best able to answer the questions designed to trick you, even after a 13 hour long-haul flight and 24 hours of no sleep. It is now compulsory for South Africans to enter the UK with a visa but we made sure I had one before they became necessary.

Central London at night

I no longer view the UK as the land of my ancestors. My grandfather and my parent’s uncles on both sides of my family fought in two world wars for Britain. Lives were lost in my family for Britain. Marriages unraveled and children grew up without their fathers who believed they were doing their bit for Britain. But the descendants of these brave men are clearly not welcome in the UK.

Crinan Marina Scotland

I expected that people in a first world countries would be well behaved or at the very least civil and hold progressive views. Boy was I wrong. 

For more Holiday Horror Stories read – Wrong airport in IndiaCanal boating on the Rochdale Nine and Taxi in Zanzibar
Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.
Holiday horror stories – Rochdale Nine

Holiday horror stories – Rochdale Nine

Greenie driving the narrow boat

My maiden voyage on the European canals was when we did the Cheshire Ring in England, 2007. We hired a narrow boat called Ramsdell from –  Heritage narrow boats – and began our journey from Congleton where they were based.

The picturesque and tranqil country canals

Canal boats mostly cruise along the canals through the countryside. You pass through pretty villages and it’s all very relaxed and laid back. The only minor effort required is when you move through a lock. Locks are the waterway equivalent of an elevator. To move up, you open a lock, drive the boat in one end and allow the lock to fill with water. The boat rises with the water, and you drive the boat out the other end at a higher level. 

Greenie on an aqueduct

It’s the same process going down, only it works vice versa. Once I got the hang of opening and closing the locks that became my job. Things were going well.

The Cheshire Ring has quite a few locks which you manage yourself. Some countries have lock keepers and fixed times to move through locks. On the Cheshire Ring, you can pass through these locks any time of the day although it is not recommended that you cruise at night. Opening and closing a lock doesn’t require great strength but you do need the British Waterways equipment to be able to lift bridges, access water points and open some of the locks.

Moored up after Manchester

Our guide book gave suggested routes and distances to cover and we followed them. Except we did the trip in double the recommended time. The book strongly advised boaters not to over-night in Manchester as there had been instances of vandalism and hooliganism. That meant we would have to do 27 locks in one day. Significantly more than we were averaging. We moored right outside the intended first lock in Portland Basin. We planned to get going with the first lock of the day at sunrise.

Getting ready to knock in pegs to tie up for the night

We woke to a miserable, wet day. It was the last thing we needed. But by midday with 18 locks under our belts, we were looking forward to finding a mooring spot for the night. We were a great team. Or so we thought. Straight after our lunch stop at Piccadilly Basin we carried on in the pouring rain to the last nine locks – The Rochdale Nine. Our afternoon from hell began.

Somewhere on the Cheshire Ring

The rain had filled the canal to such an extent that the locks were overflowing. The water simply wasn’t draining. Manchester has tamperproof gear on each lock. The extra steps involved in removing the tamper proofing made the process complicated, laborious and time consuming. I suspect the tamper proofing may have been tampered with.

The Rochdale Nine are double-width locks. They have larger heavier gates at each end as opposed to single-width gates. Because the gates are so heavy, they have a complicated chain winding system to move them. I could not get the chain system to work.

A really remote mooring

The canal plunges into a dark and gloomy underground area. Lurking there was a chap who was mentally handicapped. He was hell bent on “helping” me. As fast as I was trying to open the locks, he was closing them. I would run back and re-open the lock and ask him not to close them. He insisted on “helping” me. It was hopeless. 

Macclesfield Canal

One of us had to drive the boat. The other had to figure out how to open the locks and tell this bloke firmly to leave us alone. There were only two of us. I had never driven a boat in my life.

I had let my husband do all the driving, but now, all of a sudden, I had to learn how to drive, steer and manoeuvre this boat. The other option was to spend the night in Manchester, which wasn’t an option.

The last lock before the end of our trip

We battled our way through these locks in relentless rain. Halfway through the Rochdale Nine my husband figured out that we could pass through the locks by only opening one gate. This helped speed up our transit time. My boat handling improved and we eventually passed through all nine locks by nightfall. We tied up in Castlefield Basin. Both of us were physically and emotionally drained, bedraggled and cold. 

The rest of our trip along the Macclesfield Canal which followed from the Rochdale was a pleasure and we took turns driving the boat. I guess had it not been for the Rochdale Nine, I would probably not have tried to steer the boat.

For more Holiday Horror Stories you can read – (Not) Welcome to the UKWrong airport in India and Taxi in Zanzibar.

Follow this link for a virtual journey of the Rochdale Nine – virtual jouney through the Rochdale Nine.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Holiday horror stories – Zanzibar

Holiday horror stories – Zanzibar

Image source –
Image source –
Most holidays turn out well, but every once in a while something goes wrong. And sometimes things go horribly wrong.
My other half and I originally planned to visit Madagascar but we had to change our plans when the country was gripped by political uprising. So we chose to visit the island of Zanzibar instead.
We flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg. The next leg of the flight was to Dar es Salaam. We noticed the Air Tanzania flight changed to Nationwide Air, but we weren’t concerned.
We duly arrived in Dar es Salaam and waited for the final flight to Zanzibar. No one called our flight and we were never issued with a boarding pass. We did ask, but were told not to worry.
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When the flight was ready to leave we joined a large group of people on the runway. A pile of luggage was lying next to
 the plane and we were asked to identify ours. A group of guys hauled the bags up on the plane. We picked any old seat and off we went on the very same airplane. If I didn’t know better I would say that flight was a free for all.
We arrived at Zanzibar airport outside Stone Town and waited for our shuttle bus. It hadn’t arrived. There was a fleet of mini buses and their operators hanging about offering to drive us to our hotel at exorbitant prices but we had pre-booked and paid for a shuttle bus so we declined. And waited.
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We waited forever. It was dark, the airport was closing for the night and the taxi drivers were going home. One bloke asked if he could take us to our hotel. He said not to worry; he would sort out the bill for our transfer with the hotel. We nervously agreed.
He walked right past all the mini buses and on to the most wrecked car I have ever seen in my life. We had grave doubts about this car but he helped us in and off we went. 
Our driver required a permit to transport us, which he didn’t have. So first he had to get one. We went to a place that issues permits and our driver disappeared leaving us alone in the car for ages.  Once his permit was sorted, we resumed our journey.
The roads in Zanzibar are horrific. This bloke was weaving the car from the far left of the road right across to the extreme right to dodge not potholes, but huge big craters.  We passed through countless check points. The permit was scrutinised and the authorities would waive us on.
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We had no idea where we were going. There was not a single sign indicating distance or our destination. Zanzibar doesn’t have street lights.  And, that’s not all; children, villagers and animals were wandering all over the road. It wasn’t just dark, it was pitch dark.
But our night was far from over. We noticed a burning smell and smoke coming from the engine. The driver kept stopping to have a look. It soon became clear, this car wasn’t going anywhere. 
The driver decided he had to find his cousin. He kept assuring us that he would get us to the hotel but first, he had to find this cousin. We took another detour to a village and sat alone in the back of the car – again
Unable to locate his cousin, our driver gave up. He got the car going and we limped on with smoke belching from the engine. Neither of us had cell phones as roaming hadn’t been invented. 
We honestly believed we would never get to our hotel that night. Our fears were also that something more sinister could happen to us in deepest, darkest Africa and no-one would ever know.
The next thing, the cousin drove past, in a great big shiny mini bus. Our driver waved and hooted to stop him. We climbed out of the beleaguered car and into the taxi. Our driver left his cousin on the side of the road with the old car, and took us to our hotel. It’s possible that a cousin could also be a friend in Zanzibar.
True to his word, our driver sorted out the cost of the trip with the hotel. Would you believe the hotel had kept the restaurant open? They served us a really late supper.
I am going to skip the details of our stay in Zanzibar but I will say it is, well it was back then, completely unspoiled. No shopping malls, no entertainment centres and no vendors of plastic tourist tat. We relaxed on home-made loungers, swam in the shallow, warm ocean, ate limited local fare at the restaurant and took moonlit strolls along the beach. Zanzibar is the place to chill and be still.
The day before our return, our hotel confirmed our Air Tanzania flight, gave us a confirmation number, and organised a shuttle bus. All good.
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We checked out early that morning and got to the airport with plenty time in hand. I do need to point out that Zanzibar airport has a chalkboard for its flights – if there are any for the day. The parking area outside is gravel and there is no cafeteria inside. It is by far the most rustic airport I have ever been to. As we made our way to the front door a lady told us there was no flight that day. We almost laughed. We had a ticket and a confirmation number, how could she say that? 
A few more people arrived for the flight and she told them the same thing. We protested but she was unmoved. When the time for our flight came, and went, we realised she might be right. Now we wanted to know how we were supposed to get home. Another couple also planning to fly that morning had kept their driver with them. They let us share a lift into Stone Town to find the Air Tanzania offices.
Air Tanzania told us – there was no flight. So much for Air Tanzania flight schedules. The next flight out would be later that evening. The driver agreed to collect us and the other couple later.  
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By now we had spent almost all our money. Meanwhile we had an entire day to kill. I recall sitting on a cup of coffee for hours at one of the hotels. We walked around the dusty city of Stone Town until our feet ached. 
The driver collected us at the end of the day and we returned to the airport where a fair size group were all waiting to leave the island. Sitting at the airport I noticed Air Tanzania airplanes on the runway. They did not look good. One plane was lying on its side and the rest were rusting and falling apart. My next fear was actually flying on one of those planes.
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Then we saw a Nationwide Air plane come in to land. We were hungry, desperate for a shower and relieved to be going home. Our flight arrived in Johannesburg too late for the last connecting flight to Cape Town. Air Tanzania put us up in a hotel and took care of all transfers and costs. We finally arrived home in Cape Town a day later. 
Would I go back to Zanzibar? In a heartbeat. It’s one of the few unspoiled places left on earth. But now I know that first world travel is not going to happen and I would probably do the trip as part of a group.

For more Holiday Horror Stories you can read – (Not) Welcome to the UKWrong airport in India and Canal boating on the Rochdale Nine.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

Barging in France – Last day, boating tips and boat hire companies

Barging in France – Last day, boating tips and boat hire companies


Friday 18th September 2009
The taxi fetched us on time and dropped us at Villanouvelle station where we took the only train of the day back to Toulouse or the pink city as they call it in France.

Tips for a French Canal Boat Holiday

1.    Take gardening gloves if your hands are tender. Thick course ropes can shred your skin when you tie up for the night or secure your boat in the locks.

2.    Do try and learn basic French. The French speak a lot more English than they let on but it is only polite to make an effort to speak their language in their country. Besides you will need to buy provisions, read notices or maps and ask questions of the Lock keepers and locals. We bought the Michel Thomas Learning French CD set.

Greenie at Villenouvelle train station

3.    Pack sun-hats and sunscreen. The temperatures were between 23’C and 29’C when we went, which was between seasons. It is the south of France. The mornings were cool but the afternoons were hot.

4.    We didn’t take the extras on offer such as bicycles and the insurance in lieu of a deposit. There is so little time to use the bicycles and a short walk is just as nice.

5.    It would be wise to have some boat handling skills. No formal qualifications are required but the boats can be unpredictable in currents and wind.

6.    Pack light coloured sole shoes so as not to mark the boat and make sure they are non-slip. Leaping on and off a boat for locks and moorings is a lot harder if your shoes are falling off.

7.    If you wish to fly the flag for your country then take one with you. People greet their fellow countrymen with gusto. We always fly our flag.

8.    Pack running shoes. The canals are sheltered by the plane trees and an après journey walk or run is a great way to relax at the end of the day and stretch your legs.

9.    It is mostly older and retired people who do these trips and while they aren’t strenuous they do require some effort. You will be leaping on and off boats and heaving ropes.

Gare de Villenouvelle

10.     Go easy on the water when on a boat. They come with about 200 L tanks, which is not a lot. Get into the habit of re-using water for dishes and when showering use the spray to wet yourself and to rinse. Switch off while you soap up to conserve water. Save shaving and shampooing for when you are in a bigger mooring places where they have facilities.

Boat hire companies –
Nautic –
Nicols –
Locaboat –
Le Boat –
Rive de France – They also do bike trips –
France Fluviale –
Minervois Cruisers – English narrow boats –

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

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