Saturday 16th December 2000 Day 4

4:50am, the alarm screamed at us. Time to get up as we have a full day of excursions today!! I feel somewhat better this morning. I'm still suffering from my ailments but I'm nowhere as pathetic as I was last night.

We had breakfast in our room, and then went downstairs to wait for our coach in the hotel lobby. It was only 6:30am!

The first stop was a coconut farm. There was nothing much to write home about, only a few small souvenir stalls. We did however buy our favourite kind of souvenir, food!

Authentic fried banana crisps and a bag of brown sugar fudge, made at that very farm! The weather was pleasantly warm and it was only 8:30am by now.

Next stop was the floating markets of Damneon Saduak. Now this was well worth a visit, even if it only exists to entertain the tourists. We first boarded a long tail boat, (or 'James Bond' boat as the guide called it.) and were taken down several canals.

It felt almost like one of those "Around the World in 80 Days" boat ride at an amusement park, only that the scenes along the riverbank were real!

We wobbled quite a bit, and one particularly large wobble nearly made me jump out of my skin and fall out of the boat!

We safely reached the market where we transferred to a Siem Riep (the long wooden canoes), which took us up and down the market. I ended up buying a bag of Saffron for 200 Baht from the first boat we stopped at.

That was twice the recommended price quoted by the guide. I must get the "SUCKER" stamp wiped off my forehead! Then again, I did get the price down from 500 Baht, so technically it was a bargain! And she had a great smile!

Something else the guide mentioned was a word of warning against posing for photos with any tame 'wild' animals as there was no way of knowing if the owners subjected them to abuse.

It could be argued that any wild animal kept captive was being inflicted some degree of suffering! The other reason was that we'd be compromising our safety.

You could so easily get bitten on the nose by a proboscis gibbon and contract some horrible monkey disease without a proper doctor for miles!

With this fresh in our minds, down one of the side canals, we pulled up to a stall where this man held a whopping big python in his hands and was intent on shoving it in Julie's face! He found it funny but the Thai humour was lost on us!

A little further up the khlong we came across a familiar face! Before coming to Thailand we had watched countless Travel programmes, and one of them featured a trip to this floating market. I think it was the BBC one, with Rhodri Morgan or some one? (Oh, no, he's the Leader of the National Assembly isn't he? Rhodri something anyway!)

No matter, he stopped at this fruit seller and bought some Mangostine and Durian fruit (the dirty nappy smelling fruit!) Well, that fruit seller was THERE!! Julie spotted her, and I took a photo of her. Julie also noticed her big gold rings. Perhaps she has become a manager, or even a celeb since then!

We had half an hour to explore the inside market, on dry land, where Julie bought a croaking wooden frog, which was actually really nice! (Well, I don't know if "nice" is the right word, but it was certainly cool!)

On the way out there were a lot of people and kids trying to sell us postcards etc. One little girl attached herself to me. She must only of been four or five? She had my shirt in a terrier like grip, and I literally had to prise her off!

Seconds later I was pounced upon by a wonderful smiling lady, desperately trying to sell me some Tiger Balm.

She gave me the hard sell, and even ended up giving me a quick massage! I still refused to buy her 20 Baht balm. (Hey, I'm getting the hand of this 'turning people down' thing!) I felt guilty though. I should of given her the 20 Baht for the massage, even if I didn't want the tiger balm.

Next stop on our whistle stop tour was the tallest Pagoda (or Chedi) in Thailand at Nakhon Pathom. It certainly was huge! Apparently only the King is allowed to enter its inner sanctum but there was a public area for worship with a wonderful golden Buddha statue in a standing position. I would of really loved to of gone up to the altar with a lotus flower and incense stick, knelt down and offered my blessings. (Or at least mutter some words)

Unfortunately I didn't pluck up the balls to do it. There wasn't any other farang (that's foreigner in Thai) doing it, so I didn't want to offend the locals.

Perhaps next time when I've studied the etiquette, I'll have a go!

We walked around the chedi for a bit when we were stopped by a group of schoolgirls with a questionnaire for us to complete.

They were extremely pleasant, with plenty of smiles!

Once we finished the questionnaire, which was mostly tourism type questions, they asked if they could take our pictures. So we returned the question and took a photo of them.

They were so happy to be asked!

Next stop. Rose Garden!

This place was a manicured attraction to cater for the tourists, a canned slice of Thailand. We started with lunch, where Julie had to have the vegetarian option so that we could sit together at the same table. A meat eater at the veggie table would of led to confusion!

Luckily the food was delicious. Clear soup, then a deep-fried veg in batter (Tempura) with a ginger dipping sauce. (This was so nice we asked for seconds!) We also had stir fried veg and a bowl of Spicy Coconut veg. Most delicious!

Shortly afterwards I was so relieved when I had to go to the toilets because they were Western style! Which meant I could take it sitting down, relaxed and calm knowing that I could wipe myself clean with soft tissue paper.

I must admit to dreading the moment I have to shit in an Eastern style loo where you have to straddle the purpose built porcelain pot in the ground, squatting precariously, pissing on your trouser leg, and only having the benefit of some water to clean yourself.

I just can't begin to imagine how I would get my arse clean with only a bowl of water and my bare hands?

Anyway, we moved on towards the Thai Pavilion where we rode an elephant for sixty seconds! (it did only cost 50p each I guess)

Then Hannah decided to have a temporary hand painted tattoo, which cost 700 Baht. She cleared me out! I only had 10 Baht left in my pocket, that's like 15 pence!

She had chosen to have one done on the back of her shoulder. If she wanted it on her wrist then it would have been half the price. In the end however it did look good!

Even the artist thought it was excellent as he asked if he could take a picture of it. Perhaps the next time we visit he'll have a photo of Hannah's back up on his wall behind him!

Despite being late due to Hannah's shoulder tattoo we got quite a central position to watch the 'cultural' show. It lasted less than an hour but was entertaining enough.

Before we left we got a short elephant show after which I couldn't help but feel saddened. These majestic creatures were being made to look ridiculous, climaxing horribly in the finale when they were made to dance to Japanese karaoke music!

My throat was getting very sore right now, despite demolishing a packet of Strepsils Plus that we bought from Boots on Silom Road yesterday. I hope this doesn't develop into tonsillitis.

We returned to the hotel by 5pm very tired after an excellent day. The highlight being the floating market. We certainly got a sense of adventure whilst we were in amongst the traders.

Later that evening we decided to go out for our supper to the Tandoori restaurant at the hotel. We booked a table for 8pm and then went down to the Cheers pub, just off the lobby. That was of course after a slight detour to the 26th floor after getting into a lift that said "going up" when we actually wanted it to say "going down"! The building swayed again!

The main lobby looked fantastic, all lit up by a thousand fairy lights. We sat and had a cocktail.

It felt odd being served at your table in a 'pub'! And not have to pay for your drinks until you were ready to leave.

Seems like the perfect way to get guests to run up massive bar tabs!

The cocktail I had was called a White Elephant which reminded me of some schoolboy joke, which I won't repeat here. It had coconut liqueur, triple sec and crème de Banané, Nice but sweet! We wouldn't allow Hannah to have one, which upset her! And Julie had a Mai Thai, which had several local ingredients? We then moved up to the 6th floor for the Tandoori restaurant.

What happened next was beyond strange. Even with the benefit of hindsight I'm not sure I understand exactly why we were treated in this way. I like to believe that Julie and I are social chameleons, able to blend in with our environment, from the roughest biker's ball, to the elegance of high tea at the Ritz. But tonight we felt bemused and perhaps out of our depth in the social circles of Indian etiquette! We were greeted warmly and taken to our "very good seat, sir!" The headwaiter then welcomed us to the restaurant, handed out the wine list, and gave us a few minutes. He returned, holding his hands together, with an expectant look on his face, and asked "What shall it be tonight, sir, white or red?" I thought to myself, "You bastard, I was thinking of going for cheap Singha beer for everyone, to try and keep the bill down, now I'm going to have to go for a £20 bottle of wine! " And like the fool that I am, I ordered a bottle of white wine. When they brought the bottle out for me to taste the wine I studied the label intensely before giving my approval, if only to look as if I knew what I was doing but our un-sophistication was blatantly obvious when we all burst out laughing at this ridiculous tradition!

The headwaiter soon returned but without any menus? He started asking us our likes and dislikes of Indian cuisine. Then looked at us, stroking his chin, tilting his head to one side, like an artist contemplating his masterpiece, and said "For you sir, I think we should start with a vegetable tandoori kebab, mmm, yes, and to follow a special spinach curry accompanied by gobi aloo and some naan bread." I didn't know what to say? Asking for the menu would of offended him! All I could say was "That sounds delicious" and smiled! Hannah had the same as I did. Julie also had her food chosen for her. Tandoori chicken and a curry to follow. (Which apparently is the traditional way to eat a tandoori?) Having his creative culinary talent at our disposal to conjure up an authentic Indian masterpiece was a huge compliment to us. It gave you the feeling of being a member of the Raj!

We were then assigned a servant. He wasn't our waiter, oh no, he was our personal table boy. Whenever our glasses ran dry, he'd top them up from our chilled bottle of Chateau Pompidou. Whenever our stainless steel tumblers were less than half full of water, he was there in a flash! When our poppadums ran low, he fetched another plateful. He even placed our napkins on our knees? Did we seem that incapable! It was overly attentive, and at one point I thought he was going to spoon the food into my mouth! It was never irritating though, despite always being aware of his presence. Especially when he had nothing to do, because he would just hover nearby, waiting for the next opportunity to serve us.The evening was made perfect when I realised that the excellent lively Indian music I'd been enjoying all night was actually a four piece classical Indian band performing on cushions on the floor behind us. Could you get any more authentic?

We rolled out of the restaurant stuffed to the gills, and went back down to the Cheers pub because Hannah still wanted a cocktail. She'd been in a sulky mood since being refused one during our earlier visit. At times the atmosphere was not one of 'happy holidays'! Anyway, she got her own way in the end, and had a Bangkok Blue, which had an extremely strong alcoholic taste, and content with Tequila and Blue Curacao! We finally made it to our room at 11:30pm, and I fell asleep almost immediately.

Day 5>>

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