In case any of you may be wondering, I will no longer be posting an update on each blog on the number of months and days I have been sober. After my first year milestone, I feel that keeping a daily or bi-weekly track of my period of sobriety is no longer of any consequence.
Hopefully, my drinking days are long behind me and its now onwards and upwards in trying to put some meaning into my post-alcoholic life.
I will, however, mention the length of my sobriety on a monthly basis, and rest assured, I will confess all if I ever have a relapse – although I do feel this is most unlikely.
Someone suggested that I should provide regular updates on my efforts to lose weight and get fitter, and while I have no plans to advise my latest weight loss (or gains) in every blog, I will provide my readers with regular updates on my progress in this regard.
I am very pleased to report that not only have I become much fitter and stronger in recent weeks but have actually succeeded in losing almost 10 kilos in weight. I was hovering on 100 kilos a few weeks back, and I am now a smidgeon over 90 kilos and as a consequence, my pot belly has shrunk considerably in size.
This has been achieved by strictly observing a no chocolate/ice-cream/fruit diet and continuing my daily brisk walks which now last for a minimum of 40 minutes and are often well over an hour in duration. It is also pleasing to note that there are virtually no after effects, in the shape of aches or pains, to show for my much increased exercise.
Indeed, as you will see below, last Thursday I must have walked for the best part of three hours and although I felt pretty bushed at the end of it, I woke up the next day with not a sign of any stiffness.
My ultimate target is to get my weight down to 80 kilos, which I haven’t achieved for a good few years, and I am under no allusions that the next 10 kilos will be much harder than the first 10.
I will never embark on any kind of ‘starvation diet’ and trust in my tried and tested routine of eating three sensible meals per day, (containing the minimum of fat and little added sugar) , plus daily exercise, to work its magic on my fitness and body weight. I will be more than happy if I can get down to maybe 82-83 kilos, get rid of 90 % of the fat on my belly, (it has already reduced by about 50%), and wake up every day feeling reasonably fit and energetic.
Getting my weight below 80 kilos will be a bonus.
I am also pleased to report some progress in getting my blood pressure back under control. For quite awhile, even with my increased, twice-daily medication and daily exercise, the systolic blood pressure reading was still stubbornly high, but at long last, literally over the past few days, I can detect a slight improvement. I am checking my BP in the morning, evening, just before I take my twice daily meds, so I am checking at time when the meds are having their least effect.
Although by no means satisfactory, the systolic is definitely showing signs of coming down, so I am feeling much more positive in this regard. Failure to get my BP back under control will only hasten the day when I will need to have my dodgy aortic valve replaced, so fingers crossed.
Mobi’s Thai Trips
Following our pre-Christmas trip to the North-east of Thailand, Noo and I set off yet again on a Mobi-trip, this time in a southerly direction to Cha Am and Hua Hin, after taking in a brief stop en route in Samut Songkran. I had originally planned this trip last October, but had to postpone due to the floods, so I decided to reschedule early the New Year before the weather became too hot.
I have been to Cha Am/ Hua Hin on several occasions over the years, the first being way back in the mid 70’s when Cha Am was a beautiful, but totally desolate, unspoilt beach-side hamlet, known to only a very few adventurous Thais, and Hua Hin was still stuck in another, much older era, and its historic and architecturally aesthetic ‘Railway Hotel’ still dominated the skyline as the only structure worthy of note in the entire area.
I also remember driving there about ten years ago with my youngest daughter who was visiting me in Bangkok, and I well recall getting hopelessly lost in Southern Bangkok as I failed to realise that I should have followed the Express-way signs to Dow Kanong and thence to Highway four to the south.
I mean, how was I to know that Dow Kanong – a nondescript junction, south of Bangkok – which wasn’t shown on any decent road map, (no Google Earth in those days), was the ‘key sign post’ for motorists driving South? I have since learned my lessons about Thai road sign-age and have had no further problems in finding my way south.
But a few years back, (2008 I think), a miracle occurred. The road that seemed to take longer to complete than the Great wall of China, finally had its southern most section completed, and at long last, it became possible for us Pattaya residents to drive to the south of Thailand without having to go through Bangkok.
From Pattaya, we can now take the 55 kilometre elevated highway from Chon Buri to the magnificent, ten lane, Bangkok Outer Ring road, (often referred to as the Thai ‘M25’), southwards, over the Chao Phaya River and then onwards to the south of Thailand.
There is a famous landmark in Samut Prakan, ‘The Chang Erawan’, (A huge Elephant sculpture with 3 heads), that dominates the skyline at the southern end of the ring road. You see it just before you drive onto the awe-inspiring Kanchanapisek bridge, a span of over 500 meters, which makes it the longest single span bridge in a city full of mighty bridges.
Here are some not very good pics of Chang Erawan and the suspension bridge. (Well, it was a bit difficult, as I was driving at the time!!).
It wasn’t long before we were in Samut Sonkran where we took a small detour off the main road to meet up with Noo’s elder sister who ran a stall in the renowned Meaklong or ‘Railway Market’, so named as it has an active railway line running right through its centre.
It is a fascinating market, as all the stalls are set up either side of the single railway line and the customers walk along the rail line and stop in the centre to buy their wares. Whenever a train comes by, the customers are shooed off the line and the stalls are taken back a meter or so from the track. Most of the heavier stalls are on wheels to facilitate their speedy removal, and some are even on tiny rails.
Last year I made a trip to the market with Noo to visit with her sister and was pleasantly surprised when a train actually came through. Unfortunately on this occasion, in spite of Noo’s sister insistence that one was due, there was no sign of it and I wasn’t about to wait there all day just on the off chance; so regrettably no pics of trains coming through the market and people rushing to get out of the way.
However, here are some of photos I that I did take. Note the tiny wheels on the bases of some of the stalls so that they can make a quick retreat.
The road from Samut Songkran to Cha Am in Petchaburi province) and thence to Hua Hin, in Prachuab Kiri Khan province, is an excellent 8 lane highway and is relatively light on traffic, so good driving time can be made. Within two hours we were checking out the hotels and guest houses on the long Cha Am beach front.
As ever, the rooms came in all shapes, sizes and prices and after looking at half a dozen or so, we opted for a decent sized ground floor room with a little tastefully decorated veranda , which also came with fridge, A/C, cable TV, and very fast wifi; all for the princely sum of 900 Baht per night.
We could also park up right outside the door, which is essential for us with all our baggage, which includes an electric kettle, our myriad breakfast making essentials, plus two lap top computers!
Despite the fact that it was mid-week, the resort was surprisingly busy with tourists – Thais and foreigners alike. We soon discerned that a majority of the western tourists, all married couples and families, hailed from eastern Europe. Russians, Noo told me – and she ought to know!
Cha Am beach front is full of restaurants, small hotels, guest houses, shops and other typical seaside establishments and is very long – quite possibly as long as Jomtien beach in Pattaya, although I didn’t actually get around to measuring it…
Cha Am has traditionally been more of a Thai holiday resort than farang, (rather like Bang Saen, along the coast from Pattaya), and as a consequence, there is virtually no western-type night life in the shape of bars or ‘go-go’ establishments as befits a respectable family style resort.
Most restaurants had both Thai and western food on the menu and all were in the inexpensive ‘mid –price zone’, very similar to, or maybe cheaper than most Pattaya establishments.
The long sandy beach contains areas which boast the ubiquitous ‘wall to wall’ umbrellas but, unlike Pattaya, there are also plenty of ‘open beach’ areas, where the sun and sand are unspoiled by hundreds of these ugly, sun-blocking accoutrements.
After a long afternoon walk seafront and a tasty Thai meal in a quiet restaurant, we retired to our room for a few hours before breaking my latest rule of a life time.
We drove down to the very end of the seafront where we parked up at a ‘pretty pretty’ S & P restaurant. Sitting outside in the moonlight we gorged ourselves on not one, but two banana splits – delicious! Well, you have to spoil yourself once in a while.
Here are a few pics I took earlier that day together with my attempt to snap Cha Am in the moonlight.
Some Pink Bicycles made for two… or three…or four
It was a full moon and the beach lit up the beach with eerie shades of greyish-brown sand and the moonbeams rained down on the glistening surface of the sea. I am not sure if my photo does it justice….
The following morning we took the 30 minute drive to Hua Hin and parked up near the beach to take a stroll around the town centre and also to visit the beach. Once again I was surprised by the number of visitors around, who yet again, were mainly of the eastern European variety.
Cha Am boasts a bigger and much nicer beach that Hua Hin, although it cannot be denied that Hua Hin’s beach is full of character. The Thai word ‘hin’ means ‘rock’; Hua Hin is so named due the proliferation of rocky outcrops in the general area of the town, particularly on and near the beach.
Unfortunately the tide was in when we arrived and we couldn’t stroll along the beach very far. However, I did manage a few photos, including one of Hua Hin’s famous beach donkeys which are available for hire at 800 Baht an hour.
Why anyone in the wildest dreams would wish to change the name of one of the world’s most famous and romantic hotels to ‘Sofitel’ is completely beyond my comprehension. They might as well rename ‘Raffles’ as ‘City Lodge’ or some other similarly inane epithet.
This magnificent, colonial style hotel, which was built in 1923 had its name changed a few years back when it was acquired by the Sofitel hotel group, but to me it will forever be the ‘Railway Hotel’.
I must say however, that to their credit, the current owners have kept the hotel and its 13 hectares of landscaped gardens in magnificent condition and they are to be commended for that – but not for their short-sighted view on the changing of names.
I hope my humble photos have done justice to this wonderful place.
After an extensive wander in the grounds, where, as you will have seen above, we happened upon a bridal couple, we took a stroll through the ‘tourist streets’ of the town centre, which were awash with restaurants, bars and pubs.
This was quite a change from my last visit to the town- maybe some 10 years ago, where there were just a few bars, located in tiny sois, away from the main walking areas. But now bars abound in the central area which is bordered by Dechanuchit Road and Naresdamri Road.
Having resolved to return that evening for a meal and a stroll around the night life area, we set off in a southerly direction and about 20 kilometres down the coast we stopped off at Khao Tao Beach, a beautiful, deserted and unspoilt beach and small fishing boat harbour, which I had first visited some 10 years ago. But on my previous visit, the enormous Buddha images and other temple constructions on the distant hillside had not yet been started.
Here is what Khao Toa beach and the surrounding hills look like today.
I was too lazy to get out of my car, (after a very long walk in the sun along the open beach), but I couldn’t resist taking a snap of this ‘enterprising’ young man with his mobile ‘coffee’ establishment, parked just off the beach. Note the ground level satellite dish and also the sole proprietor, fast asleep in an adjacent hammock!
Even if I had wanted a coffee, I wouldn’t have had the heart to wake him…
After leaving Kho Tao beach, we drove along the coast a short way before coming across another beach, which didn’t seem to bear any name. Anyway, it was yet another beautiful, empty beach with a couple of large and interesting sculptures nestled on the rocks at the northern end of the beach. Note the strategic placing of the mermaid’s hair locks.
We continued following the coast on minor roads until we eventually came to a halt outside the gates of what appeared to be a royal palace. Like a fool I asked the guard if we could enter and he looked as though he might shoot me as he angrily shoo-ed us away…
We retraced our steps past the florally bedecked verges and stopped briefly in a shady wooded area before heading off back to Cha Am.
Back at Cha Am, I drove up to the fishing harbour where I took a few more photos, including some shots of one poor fishing vessel in its death throes.
As planned, we dressed up in our Pattaya finery and returned to the rocky city for an evening meal and a little wander. The town centre was bustling with life and tourists and many bars/restaurants were absolutely jam packed. This was a bit of a revelation to me, especially as it was mid-week, but I guess it is ‘high season’, and there must have been many tour groups in town.
Again, a vast majority seemed to be couples and families from Eastern Europe. In fact, although there were a few single men of indeterminate age to be found, I have to say that on the whole, the bar girls, (most of whom were also of indeterminate age), were struggling to land any punters.
Noo and I enjoyed a nice inexpensive meal at one of the roadside ‘al fresco’ restaurants and after that, we strolled around and stopped at a couple of bars where we sipped our fruit juices and watched the Hua Hin world go by.
It had been a very long day and I was glad to get back to my room in the late evening and was soon ‘out for the count’.
The next day, Thursday, we awoke a trifle late but were soon on our way to our planned destination, the magnificent Marukhathaiyawan Palace, located a few kilometres down the coast, just inside the Petchaburi border where Petchaburi Province adjoins Prachuab Kiri Khan Province. (Midway between Cha Am and Hua Hin)
Marukhathaiyawan Palace, was the Royal Summer Seaside Palace of King Rama VI and is often referred to as “the palace of love and hope”. It was built in 1923 using golden teak-wood from the demolished Hat Chao Samran Palace. An Italian architect designed the palace with a dazzling composition of verandas and latticework.
Long since having fallen into disuse, (the present royals have their own summer residence – Klai Kangwon Palace – further down the coast), some years ago it was restored to its previous splendour and is now a well-trodden tourist spot. This is particularly so, since the extensive grounds in which it stands have been turned into an environmental centre, (‘Sirindhorn International environmental Park’).
I visited this palace some 10 years ago with my then wife and youngest daughter, who was visiting me from the UK and in those days the environmental park did not exist and there were very few tourists. These days the whole area is bustling with tourists, (mainly Thais, school parties and the like), along with many local workers who tend the palace and the large, nearby parkland.
We were only allowed to enter the upper areas of the Palace in organised groups, presumably to prevent it becoming too crowded, and while inside, I was not allowed to take photographs.
So the photos below were all taken from the palace grounds which I hope still provide you with a good idea of this impressive place, although sadly I could not show you any of the rooms which still contain original furniture and fittings and give you a very good idea of how the exalted used to live in those days.
Believe it or not, they lived in a very western influenced environment and their formal ‘western’ evening dinners even had a menu written in French! Also, their dinner dress code wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow by the residents of ‘Downton Abbey’.
Leaving the palace behind, we embarked upon a very long walk which took in a statue of Rama VI, and the last remaining residence of the many that used to be scattered along the beach front – occupied by court officials and other ladies of the King’s retinue…
After this we took a hike to the newly established mangrove swamps.
We didn’t exactly get lost, but it turned out to be a very long walk indeed – some two hours or more before we finally made it back to our car.
After a not very satisfactory meal in the grounds car park, we set off on our final stop of the holiday, which was back up the coast towards Petchaburi city, to visit the coastal resort of Hat Puek Tien.
What a dump this turned out to be! It was a sad experience, as it is touted as a great seaside resort, but clearly the tourists have voted with their feet. The place is awash with empty, tumble down holiday homes and is pretty much like a huge ghost town with evidence of long lost, decaying glories everywhere.
A visit to the so-called ‘beach’ reveals the reason why. There is no beach as such, just huge chunks of concrete blocks which clutter up what used to be the beach area. How this mess arose I have no idea, but the place is a disaster.
As if to make matters worse, there is a massive offshore statue of some mythical female creature which is enough to put the ‘heebie-jeebies’ up the most insensitive amongst us. Not something to warm the cockles of our hearts when we are seeking some serenity and peace amidst the blue oceans of Thailand.
Well, you can’t expect perfection at every stop-off, and overall, we had thoroughly enjoyed all the places we visited. Actually, even Hat Puek Tien gave me cause for mirth; it was so dire it was comical.
Back in Cha Am, we had an excellent evening meal at one of the popular nearby restaurants, and then an early night after our long, tiring adventures of the day.
We hit the road at around 10 am on Friday morning and apart from the usual traffic nightmare in trying to get onto the outer Ring Road from Rama II, (I counted at least 24 lanes jammed with trucks approaching the Outer Ring Road toll booths from every imaginable direction), we made good time, arriving back home to our faithfully waiting pooches before 2 p.m.
So there are no more trips on the horizon for the next few weeks – or months – and maybe I can at long last get back into my oft neglected novel.