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Wednesday 13th July 2016

It’s 04:25, and I’m sat here typing. Whilst it’s true that normally I’m a morning person, I’m not quite this much of a morning person!! We’ve got a ride to the airport scheduled for either 05:00 or 05:30, depending who you speak to. I’m fairly sure it’s going to be the later one, but just in case it’s the earlier, we’re going to head up to reception for 05:00. K’s just hopped in the shower (I’ve already had mine) and we’re pretty much ready to go, save for the last few items to go in, such as wash kits and socket adapters / chargers etc… I’ve just found out that I’ve had *another* 2 mosquito bites over night. They’ll be the one thing that I won’t miss about Thailand, but pretty much everything else, it’s going to be a shame to leave behind. Still, it gives us a reason to come back in a few years time.

So, plan for the day …. Wait for transport. 05 something, drive to Phuket airport. Stand in line to get in terminal building. Stand in line to check in. Stand in line for security, Wait for plane’s gate to open. Stand in line to get on plane. Sit down for 6 and a half hours. Stand in line to get off plane. Stand in line for security check at Dubai. Wait for second plane’s gate to open. Stand in line to get on plane. Sit down for 8 hours. Stand in line to get off plane. Stand in line for immigration (hopefully my passport will work with the eGates this time. It didn’t last time I came back through Gatwick, but had no problems at Frankfurt or London City). Wait for luggage to arrive. Go & find our lift back home. Fall asleep.

That’s the likely version. We’ll see what the actual one is through the day!

Our check out and pick up from the hotel went as smoothly as you’d expect, and this time, instead of a private transfer, we were in a minibus, with 3 people already in there. We left Khao Lak on the main road to the south, and stopped off at another hotel to pick up 2 more people. Eventually. We were sat there waiting for them to appear for about 10-15 minutes. We arrive at Phuket airport at around 06:55, and get checked in really easily (with both boarding cards for Phuket-Dubai, and also Dubai-Gatwick), and head off to go through security and immigration. There’s quite a good queue at security, and as we get to the front, we see why. The immigration lines are long, and barely moving, which means that people can’t get through security in the first place. After about 10 minutes, we’re cleared security and then 35-40 minutes later, we make it through immigration too.

A quick stop for a coffee having made it to the departure lounge, and we grab a seat for half an hour or so before the flight starts boarding. The inbound flight was delayed by about 15 minutes or so, so  boarding started a little later than scheduled, but we still managed to push back off the stand only about 5 minutes late.

Phuket International AirportThe plane (A6-EBI) took off to the west, climbing to 36000’, and the crew started the meal service. The choice today is Scrambled eggs with baked beans and pumpkin fritters, or Wok fried chicken with noodles. K & I both chose the chicken, and sadly, it wasn’t up to the same standard as the previous 2 meals from Emirates. The noodles were quite rubbery, and under seasoned. Also, the aircraft still has the older ICE system as opposed to the newer ICE digital widescreen, and there are nowhere near the same number of options of things to watch. I was going to watch some ‘Friends’ but that’s not available on this aircraft, so have chosen the film ‘Dad’s Army’ instead. We didn’t get the chance to watch it when it was on at the cinema, but having watched the trailer, I thought that I’d worked out the plot before even seeing it. Halfway through, and I’m totally convinced that I was right….

View from 19K on A6-EBIOK, films now finished, and yes, you get the entire story, minus a little bit of subtext, from the trailer. It was another good way to pass an hour and aa half whilst in a confined space, but other than that, it’s snot really that good.

Given the smaller amount of IFE on this aircraft, I’ve tried to sleep, or at least doze, but there’s no way that’s happening. In fact, merely trying to sleep is keeping me awake – grrr! At least the prelanding snack of a small pizza’s quite nice!

Dubai International AirportThe plane lands a little ahead of schedule and we taxi to a remote stand, and wait for about 10 minutes for the doors to open. When they eventually do, we’re met by 2 buses at the bottom of the stairs, and a man holding a sign with a list of airports saying ‘The following destinations, this bus. All other destinations, the other bus’. Presumably this is to ensure that people get to the right set of gates for their connecting flights. No point in A gate flights ending up in the B/C terminal and vice versa. Having arrived in the terminal building at Dubai, we clear security, which is quick and efficient, just as it was on the way out, and make our way to the gates to find out exactly where we are. Amazingly, we’ve come in pretty much next to our gate, so nip in to the toilets to freshen up and then have a look around the shops, which we didn’t manage to do on the outbound flight. We decide that Dubai ain’t cheap. Well, to be fair, we knew that anyway. The shops just reinforce the point! Having looked at watches, perfumes, food, souvenirs, clothes and jewelry, we’ve only got 20 minutes or so until we need to be at the gate, so wander round, via a coffee kiosk to grab a drink each and a muffin. As we’re waiting for the drinks, we hear a chap at our gate (only 15 metres away) shouting ‘Emirates flight to Gatwick. Come now, please!’ What? The gate doesn’t even open for 15 minutes. So we grab the drinks as soon as they’re ready and make our way to the gate, only to find they’re just getting people into the waiting area before the jet bridge. Well, they can wait a little longer then! We sit down just outside the gate desk, and eat our muffins, and have a little of our drinks before going through. Descending the escalator towards the waiting area, we spot a bloke with a clipboard. Apparently, he’s selecting people for a random extra security check, and guess what … K gets picked. Not me, with my cold drink, but K with her hot tea. As it happens, it’s a very brief check, with K being taken into a closed room and her bag swabbed for some substance or another, be it explosives, drugs, laundered money, or something else. Doesn’t matter anyway, there’s nothing to find, and the swab quickly comes back negative, and K is allowed to carry on. After only 5-10 minutes or so, people are asked to start boarding, which takes a relatively short amount of time. That’s where it goes wrong. It’s hitting busy time at Dubai, and we’re left on stand for a good 10 minutes, maybe 15 before we can push back, and then having pushed back and taxied, there’s a 15 minute wait at the runway for other aircraft ahead of us. The captain advises us, however, that due to tail winds, they’re only expecting a 7 hour flight as opposed to 7 hours 50 minutes, so we’ll make up the delay quite easily.

View from 45K on A6-EOUOnce airborne, the meal service starts, and we have the choice of Chicken Provencale with rice or Braised Beef with Mash. K goes for the chicken, and I have the beef. Now this is how the food’s supposed to be! So much better than the noodles earlier. We both choose a white wine to go with the meal (Yes, white wine with beef. It is allowed, you know), and having been given a mini bottle each, the stewardess asks if we’d like a second. Well, why not! Entertainment wise, this time, I go for a lot of the final season of Friends, followed by a film starring Anton Yelchin, called 5 to 7, which is quite good, looking at ‘non-standard’ marriages & relationships. Once done, I go back to the comedy and watch The Big Bang Theory, which is always enjoyable, at least, for me! We have a snack on this flight too, in the guise of ‘Afternoon Tea’, which Emirates define as ‘Reception sandwiches, and a scone with butter and jam’. The reception sandwiches are 2 tiny, tiny finger sandwiches, one cheese and one chicken, and to be fair, taste quite nice. The bread however, is extremely dry, as if it had been left out in the air for a day to go stale. Still, food is food, so down it goes! The scone is warm, and actually, delicious. Soon enough (given the entertainment options), we start our descent somewhere around Belgium, and once passed through the cloud, get our first look at a bleak England for the first time in 10 days. We enter the hold at Mayfield for 2 laps, I think it was before descending to 4000’ to intercept the ILS for Gatwick’s 26L. Landing was 5 minutes ahead of schedule, and the plane was quickly emptied having arrived on stand. My passport did work in the eGate this time, and K’s bag was one of the first off, with mine following only about 2 minutes after. This really was an easy arrival experience at Gatwick, and having passed through Customs, went to find my Mum, who had volunteered to pick us up again, having dropped us off the week previous. We arrive home at 22:00 English time, some 24 hours 15 minutes after we woke up to start the journey home.

All in all, it’s been an amazing holiday, and I really want to go back to Thailand already. Like now. Please, let me.

Phuket – Dubai

Flight: EK397

Aircraft: A6-EBI

Type: B777-300ER

Seats: 19J & 19K

 

Dubai – London

Flight: EK9

Aircraft: A6-EOU

Type: A380-800

Seats: 45J & 45K

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Tuesday 12th July 2016

AomExcursion day take 2 Smile The first bit of the day goes like yesterday. Up at 7:30, breakfast by 8:15 and then up towards reception to wait for our tour guide. As we approach reception, however, there’s something different happening today. There’s a lady waiting for someone. And she’s wearing a Green Andaman Travel T-shirt. That’s the company we’ve booked with. AND she’s here for us. Wahey, good times! She introduces herself as Aom, and having gotten in to her car (actually, her brothers, we later find out. He also works for the same tour company, and it’s his vehicle) we get a run down of the day, and more profuse apologies for missing us out yesterday. Still no worries, things happen. The point is that the issue was resolved, and we’re still doing our trip. That’s all we care about.

Takua Pa marketSo, plan for the day is to stop at Takuapa market, then go to a Thai temple, on to Takuapa old town, and finish at the Nam Kem Tsunami Memorial Park. The drive up to the market takes around 35-40 minutes, mostly due to the large number of very slow moving vehicles on the road, and a fairly long section of single lane road, meaning it’s not particularly easy to pass them. Eventually, we do zip past, and arrive at Takuapa market, where K’s given a traditional Thai tea to drink (I’m not a fan of tea, so politely decline) which apparently is quite nice. Strong, but sweet, as it’s sweetened with condensed milk. We’re given about 25 minutes to wander around the market, which we do, looking at the spices, vegetables, fresh meat, fish, and general produce stalls. In only one place in the entire market do we hear English being spoken (other than us) and that was a lively Thai gentleman just wanting to chat with us.

Once finished at the market, we’re taken round the corner to a herb shop, which also serves what is apparently, the best coffee in Thailand. K has a latte, and agrees that it’s very nice indeed. It’s also been served with Thai cookies, made with coconut, but no butter, and Aom buys a small cake for us all to share – very sweet, very moist, very yum!

Our second stop of the day is directly across the road, so we wander over to the Takuapa temple, where a service is in full swing, led by several monks. Aom asks if we’d like to sit for a while, but as neither of us are Buddhists, it almost feels disrespectful, so we decline, and have a wander around the grounds instead. It’s amazing that even being on a main road, the temple and grounds are so peaceful and relaxing, you almost don’t hear the traffic.

Next up is Takuapa old town, but we stop on the way for a photo opportunity at an old iron bridge, and then again at the Tor Sor cake factory who make small 2-bite sized cakes, with, amongst other flavours, black sesame seeds – extremely tasty. We soon arrive at the old town, where we first stop at a Chinese temple, before walking the streets for a bit. It seems that the majority of the inhabitants of the old town are Chinese descendants, and they have integrated into Thai society, whilst keeping true to their Chinese roots.

Noodle Restaurant in Takua PaLunch is taken in a small noodle restaurant, where there’s no menu card, merely a list on the wall, all in Thai, so Aom orders for us, and yet again, an amazing concoction arrives. First there’s some crispy Wontons, followed by a bowl of homemade noodles, with beansprouts, pak choi, and pork, served with a vegetable broth, to be added to your own liking. Amongst the condiments are ground chilli flakes, soy sauce, fish sauce, a spicy ginger sauce and pepper. There’s also a bowl of extra pork for us all to share. How Thai people aren’t the size of me, I’ll never know! I could have eaten that all day.

Once we’ve finished, we set off quite quickly as there are people wanting to eat, but no tables available, so it seems only fair, as otherwise we’d just be sat there making small talk, so we start off on the 30 minute drive to Nam Kem.

Nan Khem Tsunami Memorial ParkThe place is so serene and tranquil, which presumably is what the architect was going for. The actual memorial is cleverly in the shape of a wave, and is set in a large park, allowing people to come and remember their loved ones, or pay their respects, or simply just sit and meditate. Strangely enough, it’s actually quite a nice place to be. There’s also a museum showing pictures taken after the disaster, mostly of well known people from both the eastern and western world’s getting involved where they could. In addition to these photos are a couple of aerial shots, one before, one after the disaster. It really does make a point, just how bad the disaster was when you see how much the land, and the coastline changed in those few hours back in 2004.

Sadly, our time with Aom comes to an end, and we’re dropped off back at our hotel for the last time. She’s been the perfect tour guide, giving personal experiences of Thai culture, and throwing in humour when it was suitable, and respect when that was due. If you book anything with Green Andaman Travel, ask for Aom, you can’t go wrong with her.

One thing that we do need to do before we check out is pay our hotel room account. The holiday itself is paid for, but the food, drinks, and spa sessions that we’ve had have just been accumulating, so instead of leaving it until tomorrow morning when, if there’s a problem, it’s going to be harder and more stressful to sort it, so we pop to reception, and come away 17,800 Baht lighter (around £370), which I don’t think is bad at all considering what’s on there. I might upload the final bill, minus any personally identifying details once we’re home … maybe, maybe not. If you’re interested, and I haven’t done it, just ask for info!

We sort out our suitcases, as we’d quite like an early ish night tonight to get as much sleep as possible before the 4am alarm clock goes off, and then head …. yes that’s right, a bit more pool / sunlounging time! Well, there’s only 90 minutes of sun left, so we might as well makes the most of it Smile

We pop out early for dinner to Mojo’s, right next to McDonald’s at the rear of the hotel complex. Would you believe it, it’s another great meal. A tad more pricy than the others we’ve had, but it’s our last night, so sod it! We share some garlic bread and fish cakes for a starter, and then K has a spicy wok fried chicken and steamed rice, and I go for chicken with cashew nuts and garlic rice. The garlic rice is soooo garlicky. It was nice, but I’m not sure I’d have it again. All in all, that meal, with a cocktail each, and a soft drink each came to 1280 Baht, which is a little expensive, but it was a good way to have our last meal.

That’s pretty much it for toady, other than sorting out the last few bits from the safe now we’re back in the room, and sorting out clothes for tomorrow. Here’s hoping we get some sleep!

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Monday 11th July 2016

Main poolOuch. Bloody ouch. Bloody sodding ouch. That pink shoulder of mine has become red and I’ve not had a very good night. Will I ever learn? Always make sure you’re creamed before going out in the foreign sun. I’m pleased that I haven’t gone that very unattractive red that so many Brits end up as.

Today’s the last trip that we’ve got planned. We’ll be visiting the town of Takuapa, some 30km North of Khao Lak, stopping at another temple on the way, and then coming back via the Tsunami Memorial Park at Nan Khem. The weather’s due to be changeable, so hopefully it won’t be too hot walking around, or too rainy. I know, I don’t want much do I?!

We head down for breakfast around 8:15, which gives us a good 45 minutes to eat and be in the lobby for our pick up time of 9:00. A new addition to breakfast today is Dim Sum, so they’ve got to be tried, along with my usual fried rice (and bacon & beans today, too. Yes, all on the same plate). We’re actually done by 8:40, so meander back to reception and sit under one of the ceiling fans for a little bit of air movement, as it’s quite stuffy. 9:00 comes, then 9:05, 9:10, 9:15 and 9:20 when a chap comes in looking for an Emma Watson. Nope not us, and presumably not *the* Emma Watson either. By 9:10, I was already a little bit antsy, so by 9:25, I’m off to grab my phone from the room safe to email the local agent to find out what’s happening. It turns out, he’s missed us off the bookings for the day, and is extremely apologetic when he phones, and asks if tomorrow would be convenient instead. Well, it’s a bit of a pain, but mistakes happen, so we agree to that, and then discuss what to do with our ‘day off today that was going to be tomorrow, so we have nothing planned’ day. We briefly discuss the idea of wandering up along the beach, but I’ve got to be honest, in the heat and humidity that’s around today, I’m not really relishing the idea. We decide to have a swim for any hour or so and then reassess the weather. However, due to the shoulder situation, I put on a part used T shirt to wear in the pool – no sense in making it any worse than it already is. Someone’s left an exercise ball in the pool by the bit that we’ve taken to sitting at, so we throw that around for a little while, actually having a better time in the pool than (probably) either of us thought we’d have on this holiday. Once we’re out and drying off, K notices that she’s got 20 or so ants running around on her towel, and we track them down to under her lounger, so we pick our bits up and move to a different lounger where we stay for about 10 minutes when it chunks it down. Hard. I mean hard, hard. K heads back to the room, and I get rid of our beach towels in the ‘used’ receptacle before joining K, having gingerly tried to keep my camera and tablet dry. Not easy when you’re soaked through and have nothing to cover them with!

Villa 7010Luckily, the villa’s patio area has a roof, and it’s keeping the rain off, so K sits outside whilst I do some typing. Yes, it might seem weird to be typing whilst on holiday, but I want to be able to look back in 1, 2, 5, 10 years and remember the holiday. The more I get down ‘live, as it happens’, the more I’ll remember later in life. We also decide to make use of the large bath in the bathroom, and have decided it’s the size we want at home when we redo our own bathroom. Actually, let’s just take the entire bathroom back to England! I’ve previously said that I wanted an Asian styled bathroom with dark wood. Well, that’s pretty much what we’ve got here at the moment. Wonder if they’ll miss one, if we take it with us …

Almost all afternoon, there’s been thunder and lightning but luckily it stops just before we go out for dinner. In fairness, we’ve got 2 places in mind for tonight. One right on the doorstep of the hotel if it’s wet, and one further away if it’s dry. Well, it’s dry, so we walk back South to Gold Elephant, which aesthetically, is one of the nicest restaurants we’ve been to these past 8 days. Yet again, the food is really good. We have a Chicken Massaman curry and steamed rice (K) and Chicken with ginger and pepper sauce, with a roasted rice with pineapple (me). Wow, we’d go back there in a heartbeat. It certainly isn’t the cheapest restaurant we’ve been to since getting here, and it’s right at the southern end of Khao Lak, so if you’re staying in the northern part, it’s a bit of a trek / taxi ride, but I definitely feel it’s worth the trip & money.

Right next door (and whilst separate, seems to be owned by the same people that own the restaurant) is a bar that’s been playing live music all night, in the way of a Thai chap singing Western pop songs – he’s been quite good – something you’re happy to listen to, but wouldn’t want to pay for is, I guess, the fairest way of putting it! Whilst we’re listening to the music and drinking our second cocktails of the night, the weather starts off again, which pleases Mr. Singer man no end, as it gives him the opportunity to start singing ‘Have you ever seen the rain’. Yes. Yes, we have.

After 25 minutes or so, the rain eases a touch, and we head back to the hotel, huddled under my tiny travel umbrella, where we start to pack the things we’re not going to need for the last couple of days. Sad times – I can’t believe that this time tomorrow, we’ll be trying to be asleep due to a very very early start on Wednesday.

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Sunday 10th July 2016

ChrisWoke up feeling a little tender today. Those 5 minutes without sun cream on yesterday have taken their toll, and my shoulders are now pink. Not British tourist pink, but pink nonetheless. The warm shower confirmed that I’ve definitely done some damage to them, as the water felt like someone ripping my skin apart for a few seconds. Luckily, the spa offers a treatment to help sunburnt bodies. As we’re due that rain, I think we’ll end up in the spa at some stage, so I’ll see if they can fit me in for that today.

Over breakfast, we just watch the world go by, enjoying the leisurely pace that things happen at over here, and I’m not looking forward to going back home on Wednesday. The thought of the regularity and necessity of work is really not a pleasing or inspiring thought, but until we win the lottery, I guess we’ll have to carry on as per normal. As we’re finishing up from breakfast, the rain starts. It doesn’t get heavy like we’ve seen it, but it’s fairly substantial, and we decide to pop in to the Cenvaree Spa on the way back to the room. If it’s a wash out day, then there’s a distinct possibility that lots of people are going to want to be inside, and may well book treatments. Let’s try to make sure that we get in. We pop in and try to book Nuad Tao (Traditional Foot Massage) for K and a Red Rice Sunburn Soothing Wrap for me. Success … they can fit us both in at 13:00, so time to do nothing for a few hours. The rain’s stopped, so guess where we spend it … Yes, that’s right, by the pool Smile Slathered in sun cream we snag a couple of loungers and relax. As it’s still reasonably early, the pool isn’t busy, so I decide to go down the water slide with the action cam and an idea in mind for a video. K shocks me at this point and says that she’ll join me on the slide. Well, after me, at any rate. I go down, totally prone and pretty much end up sitting on the bottom of the pool once I’ve ‘landed’. K comes down more sedately but still with a splash, which I was impressed at, as she really dislikes her face getting wet in pools etc… To my amazement, and joy, she stays in the pool with me for a bit, and we just bounce along slowly from one end of the pool to the other and back again. It’s only once K has gotten out of the pool, that I review my video. I like it, however, I’ve had the date stamp function turned on all the time that we’ve been here, so I’m going to need to do some serious video cropping to remove it once we’re home. Rats. Oh, we also used the adults only ‘Mountain Pool’ before K got out of the pool. This pool is actually a large jacuzzi sat above all of the others – quite scenic, really.

K in huge trousers at Cenvaree SpaPretty soon, it’s time to go for our treatments, and, as we’re being led to them, I’m surprised that 1) we’re being done in the same room together, and 2) we’re being done in the same room as the couples treatment we head on Tuesday. K points out that actually, all the rooms may be kitted up as doubles so that they can potentially cope with a large number of couples at the same time. Quite possible actually, as all the rooms look the same size from the outside. I’ve got the stylish net pants to wear again, and K has over-over-oversize trousers to put on. Picture to come later! My treatment starts with a mixture being applied to my entire body in the same format as the scrub last time, so back first, then rear of each leg individually before turning over and having the front of each leg done, followed by my chest and arms. I’m then wrapped up in the heavy duty clingfilm, before a cool heavy towel is put on top. My therapist leaves me for 20 minutes to let the mixture do it’s stuff, and I must admit, it’s actually really relaxing. Once I’m rejoined, I take a shower to wash the solution away, and can see grains of the red rice that’s used all over my body. Suitably clean, I have another full body application, this time an aloe substance, which is quite cooling. All too quickly, it’s all over, and I get changed in the shower room and leave K to finish her foot massage in peace. I say peace. It’s actually sounded quite brutal in places! In case you don’t know, normally, your eyes are covered with a flannel, or cucumber when having a face up treatment, so I’ve not seen a thing that’s going on on K’s side of the room, but there’s been lots of slapping noises.

I’ve got to admit that I can’t remember what on earth we did for the rest of the afternoon. I know K had a shower around 19:00, so I put the British Grand Prix on for a bit. The first time the TV has been on – that’s a nice thought.

Spinach restaurantWe head out for dinner at Spinach restaurant this time, and indulge In some reasonably priced frozen margaritas and daquiris. 120 Baht each for the record. We’re going to have to have to have words with our local couple of venues at home that we frequent, as we’ve decided we’re being overcharged for food & drink! Dinner wise, we have spring rolls and chicken fritters for an appetiser and then K has a spicy cashew nut salad for her main, I have Pad Thai, and we share a ‘BBQ  chicken’. A little bit of a memorable dinner this, as we were offered someone else’s mains once we’d finished our starters, and we said that no, we’d ordered Pad Thai, spicy salad and BBQ chicken, They were very apologetic and went to find out from the order notebook which table should have had it. 5 minutes later, a plate of chicken with a few noodles turns up. We put it in the middle as we’re sharing the chicken between us and pick at it maybe taking 3 mouthfuls each. Suddenly, the lady who took our order comes over, panicking. ‘No, that not for you, sorry. You have Pad Thai and salad. And chicken, I remind her. ‘No, this not BBQ chicken’ Really? Well, there’s little spice on it, so what is it?! Anyway, the chicken is removed, and then instantly given to someone else! At least they didn’t notice that someone else had already tried it! Once our food turns up, it’s really tasty, and our chicken doesn’t have noodles – It’s pretty much just a grilled chicken breast. Simple, but good. Neither of us really wants a pudding, so we just have another cocktail each, bringing the total bill for 2 starters, 3 mains, and 4 cocktails to 980 Baht (£22, give or take a little bit). See what I mean about overcharged at home!

We’re off on our final trip tomorrow, visiting a Thai Village (I think it’s more like a small town) and the Tsunami memorial park, and it’s a 9am start, so we call it a night and head back to the villa for some sleep.