As you may recall, our first holiday after we arrived in India was to Thailand, back in January. We loved it, and said at the time that it would be difficult not to skip the rest of the region and just keep visiting Thailand over and over again until 2012, when we return to the UK. Knowing the risk, and determined not to waste the opportunity to see different parts of the world that we would be unlikely to get to from Scotland, we vowed not to do so.
That lasted quite a few months actually, until October, I think. That’s when we were trying to decide where we wanted to spend Christmas, if not Delhi. Thailand was the first answer, and remained so. I’m very glad it did. After this second visit, I can confirm that it’s my favourite place on Earth (once you’re away from the tourist trap cities), at least of those places I’ve been.
On this occasion, we stayed at a small complex called Sansuko Ville. Just nine chalet bungalows, around a pool, with a bar attached. It’s away from the tourist hordes, set in a local village, and ideal for having a wander around the proper Thailand, away from the big resorts and hotels. It’s a beautifully turned out place, built a couple of years ago, but the real reason for its increasing word of mouth success are the owners, Bobbi and Steve. Both ex-pats from the North of England, they went out of their way to make sure we got the best of our trip. On our first day there, Steve all but threw us in a car and drove us round his personal local highlights – beaches and restaurants most tourists never find out about. On Christmas Eve, they staged a party for the guests and their friends. A proper party, with too much booze, and chat, and a late, late finish. On Christmas Day, they held another, starting with a barbecue (our Christmas dinner, beating turkey and trimmings hands down), and going long into the night. There were three other members of staff, and we were on first name terms with all of them – Eddie, Pui, and Deuan. If we needed to go somewhere, and they had opportunity to do it, they drove us and picked us up themselves, for no reason beyond it being a nice thing to do. As soon as we got there, we were made to feel among friends.
Steve was right, too. The beaches he pointed out were gorgeous and secluded, spoiled only by a rogue crab attack when Eva decided to bury her hands in inhabited sand, and came out with one attached firmly to her little finger by the pincer. Some shaking sent it spiralling into the middle distance, and the tears were shortlived. Normally not an adventurous eater, she pushed the boat out and got her revenge by eating soft shelled crab for dinner. That’ll teach them.
One evening we popped out and explored the local village, stumbling onto the market. Fresh fish everywhere, but I was drawn to the food on sticks. I have decided that all food should be on sticks. Cleverly, the Thai folk identify their food on sticks in only the most generic terms, such as pork balls, or fish balls. This appeases the imagination, and allows you to tuck into the tasty offerings without having to dwell further.
Christmas, as previously mentioned, was a good spirited, boozy affair. Despite her very reasonable concerns, Eva was delighted to discover on xmas morning that Santa had not been overly confused by our change of location, and had found her after all. Given that our beds were all in the same room, and a fair quantity of Singha beer had been quaffed before the traditional creeping and laying of presents, I’m amazed that we got away with it. This could well be the last year in which Eva properly believes, given how clued in she is about the meeting place between fantasy and reality, so we relished it.
On Christmas day, before the barbecue, we popped down to Phuket Aquarium. While the Thai locals thoroughly enjoy xmas, and there were more than enough decorations and suchlike up, it’s still business as usual for most people, so everything was open. As such, we spent the day in the company of piranhas, giant groupers, and other weird and wonderful things. We also popped into the turtle sanctuary behind the aquarium, where young turtles are bred specifically to be released back into the wild, keeping the population up. As xmas days go, it was memorably different.
Other highlights included a visit to the Big Buddha, still under construction and aiming to be the biggest such statue in the region. Not much to do there, to be honest, but worth going for a gawp at the scale of the thing, and the views it commands of the area. My highlight of the whole vacation was chartering a narrow boat for the day in order to visit Coral Island. The beach there was a little crowded for our tastes, but with swathes of coral just offshore, we stood knee deep in the sea and dropped pieces of bread into the waves. A minute or two later, we were surrounded by teeming shoals of variously coloured and sized fish, scrapping for the bread in their dozens. While that was memorable enough, it was the boat trip itself that will stay with me longest, rising on blue-green swells as we made our sedate way to Coral Island and back, while the sun beat down. We even got silence from Eva (pictured reeling the boat in for the return trip) for the half hour ride both ways. It was that awesome.
Of course, every holiday has a down side, and for me it was Phuket Zoo that provided. That’s a post for another day though.
The holiday had to end, and the final sign of what a good family trip it was came when Eva burst into tears on her final night, because she never wanted to leave. I know how she felt.