I’ve never been fond of the expression ‘making memories’, I’m more a ‘living in the moment’ kind of girl. Just as well really, because I have a tendency to forget. Not just people’s names or where I put the remote control, I mean big chunks of my life. Monumental events like my graduation, places we went on our honeymoon. My daughter’s first words. They drift into a blurry black hole, never to be recalled, or only recalled when I get strong sensory prompts. I blame my reckless twenties. Burning the candle at both ends, I downed more booze and partied with enough abandon to give Lindsay Lohan a run for her money, so I can’t help but pin it on all the fun I had. There’s zero evidence for this theory, but that’s by-the-by because my memory’s crap whatever the cause, and if I don’t write things down or take photographs it might as well have never happened.
For that reason, I’ve put together a completely self-indulgent blog on our recent holiday in Phuket. B and I first visited Thailand ten years ago and, for three weeks, we had a great time travelling around Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Phuket – but that’s as much as I could tell you off the top of my head. So, if writing stuff down helps it stick, maybe I won’t forget our latest trip with Little B in tow, grandparents already there. If I do, well, at least I’ll have something to fall back on.
1. The smell. The exact moment I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore was when I breathed in the heady mix of lime leaves, burning incense and smoked, salted fish. It hits you as soon as you step off the plane. The dominating ‘notes’ depend where you are but from temples to markets, beaches to bars, the unmistakable smell of Thailand is ever-present. I know it doesn’t sound that appealing from the description but if I could have bottled it and taken it home to stick reeds in and pop on the mantle piece, I would have done in a flash.
2. When it rains it pours. It’s always hot and humid, and nearly always sunny in Phuket, but when those brilliant blue skies fill with charcoal clouds it spells trouble. And when you’re in a car and the water’s coming down in sheets (as it was when my father-in-law, who spends the winter months in Kamala, picked us up from Phuket airport) it’s proper shit your pants time. With roads as windy and steep as a white knuckle ride, we had to abandon the car on a hill as vertiginous as the Leaning Tower of Pizza when a river of rain came straight at us, causing us to wheel spin. All the more terrifying due to the fact it was 7’O’Clock at night and everywhere was pitch black.
3. Even when it’s not raining the roads are still a death trap. Being a left-hand driving country, I might have been tempted to get behind the wheel if it weren’t for the lunatics on mopeds. Where street markings are more of a ‘guide’ and under-taking is fair game, I’ve seen more near-misses on blind corners in one week than I hope to see for the rest of my life. Add to this equation the helmets (and T-shirts) that are lawfully required but worn sparingly: every journey is a disaster waiting to happen. Still, who doesn’t love a rush of adrenaline peppered with the thought that anything could happen getting from A to B? Especially with your child in the car. Exciting, innit.
4. To elephant ride or not to elephant ride? That was the question. Having visited Cape Phrompthep, a wonderful shrine groaning with elephant statues and trinkets at the top of another very steep hill, we had the chance to go to a nearby sanctuary that offered short rides on real animals. Watching the elephants playfully taking bananas and using their trunks to squirt us with the water they were being hosed down with, we eventually buckled to pester power (it was Little B’s birthday), but I don’t feel good about it.
5. Having a sweet tooth is a prerequisite in Thailand. Given the sugar content in everything from iced tea to green curry, I shouldn’t have questioned whether a Western birthday cake would be easy to come by. The sponge was more powdery than we are used to, the icing… lardier? but it worked with candles and we got to sing Happy Birthday to Little B, who turned five while we were out there. Looking for something so specific gave us the chance to go to a supermarket. I LOVE visiting supermarkets in other countries and the massive Tesco Lotus (hi globalisation) didn’t disappoint. Culturally, it definitely catered to the eastern palette (whole aisles dedicated to soy sauce and noodles), but it still stocked familiar lines such as Florence and Fred and the Tesco Value range, which left me a little sad.
6. Eggs are the snack of choice. You can pick up a hard boiled egg as easily as you can a packet of crisps. From the 7/11, a street vendor, fresh or cooked at the markets or in huge baskets hanging off the back of a bike or tuk-tuk: eggs are abundant. They even sell the broken ones cracked into clear bags like goldfish. One evening we went to Kamala night market where every kind of meat, fish and corn was being barbecued over hot grills (that smell!), but it was the egg kebabs that fascinated me most. The Thais do not miss an opportunity to get a protein fix.
7. Wine is not wine. It’s more commonly known as ‘fruit drink’, unless it’s the real McCoy subject to heavy importation charges. For this reason we tended to wash down our chicken satays with a Singa beer (him) and, keeping it classy, a raspberry Smirnoff Ice (me). Unless, of course, we were lording it up at the Vanilla Sky cocktail bar, where the in-laws took us to on Little B’s birthday. There, instead of the syrupy Mai Thais and salty margaritas we were getting used to in the village, we were treated to dry-ice apple juice concoctions and chilli martinis. Too posh to feature paper umbrellas and the mandatory pink orchid, but oh so delicious.
8. The Western wedding shoot is booming business. Every day on Kamala Beach there would be an eclectic mix of French, Russians, some Germans and a sprinkling of Brits. But there would also be up to ten Thai couples having pictures taken in hired white wedding dresses and suits before actually marrying in traditional attire. Someone somewhere is making a pretty penny.
9. You can’t turn a corner without walking past a massage parlour or salon. It was Valentines Day when my mother-in-law insisted B and I went for a traditional Thai massage (she had already treated Little B to getting her nails painted the colours of the Swedish flag). So, for 300bt (roughly £6) I got my body kneaded, stretched and chucked around like a lump of pizza dough for an hour, and I felt great afterwards. B, on the other hand, whose masseuse was the size of a sumo wrestler, was in agony for the next couple of days.
10. Natural beauty sits quite happily alongside spectacular eyesores. You might be looking at a tangled weave of electric wires one minute and a hillside of tropical palms the next, but it all has a charm, even when it’s in the same frame.
11. We need to spend more time with the family. My retired in-laws, (B’s dad and step-mum), spend much of their time globe-trotting. Having now seen the paradise in which they spend their winter months, I don’t blame them for using their Twyford home as a mere crash pad. I would given half the chance. But it does mean we have to be cleverer about seeing them when they are back. I know I’m probably guilty of arranging more things with my own family out of ease and opportunity but when my mother-in-law told me she had learnt more about me through my blog than in person it was a wake up call. Must do better.
12. I finally learnt how to dress to fly. There wasn’t much to look forward to coming home, so it was some consolation to know I’d at least be comfortable for the 13 hour flight. It might seem trivial but in all my years of travelling, I have never managed to dress both comfortably AND respectably for boarding a plane. But after procuring tips from seasoned jetsetters on the She Can & She Does Facebook page, let me sing the virtues of dungarees. Given how much my stomach must have stretched after god-knows-how-many green curries, the lack of waistband was a welcome attribute. Still, give me my shorts and flip-flops back any day of the week: I much prefer dressing for the beach.