Thailand to Timor

Oct-Nov 2017.


Thailand to Timor map
Our route across Indonesia to Timor-Leste and from Bangkok to Laos and Angkor.

 

Bangkok, Thailand

 

Mon 23rd Oct.  After a nice flight on a full Thai Airways airbus we arrived at the fancy new Bangkok airport at 6am. 


Amari Hotel Don Muang Bangkok
By showing our flight tickets for tomorrow's flight we got the free airport shuttle bus to the old Don Mueang airport and walked across the footbridge to the very nice Amari hotel where we got an early check-in to a very smart suite complete with fresh fruit, orchids and a balcony overlooking the beautifully-kept gardens and swimming pool. Sheila is starting how she means to carry on!


Just across the road from the hotel there was a railway station, so for five baht each (12 pence) we got tickets down to the central station, but it was a slow, hot, crowded journey and we decided not to try that again. From the central station we got the new metro to Sukhumvit and walked along to our old stamping ground near the Royal Benja and Rajah hotels, but it has all changed.  The nice shops have all gone and there is nothing but great big high-rise malls with the same boring international hotels and stores, and the area round where the Rajah used to be is full of seedy bars and massage parlours (even more than before). Further along, the Central department store is still in its nice old building although the interior is now a gleaming modern store like all the rest and the children's dodgem car track on the top floor is gone. From there we got the skytrain to the end of the line at Mo Chit then one of the frequent airport buses back to Don Mueang, which was a much better way to go. By now it was happy hour in the downstairs bar at the hotel and we had two big glasses of Singha beer for the price of small ones and a couple of nice Thai stir-fries.

 

Bali, Indonesia

 

Tues 24th. We walked across the bridge into the airport and had a nice breakfast at an airport lounge called the 'Miracle Lounge' then flew to Bali. We flew on Air Asia which is the local equivalent of Ryan Air so we had to pay more for the baggage than our seats cost and the food service on board was all chargeable so we didn't bother. There didn't seem to be a tourist office or hotel booking desk in Bali airport so we got a taxi and asked him to try hotels in Kuta, the beach side area, and the first one he took us to, the Adhi Jaya, was very nice with pleasant rooms around well-kept gardens.


Adhi Jaya special satay
By now it was 7pm and they gave us a 15% off coupon for their restaurant so we went and had their signature dish, a big array of different types of satay, announced by a drumming band as it was carried in by a dancer who then performed a Balinese dance to bless the food. It was very tasty.


Afterwards we had a walk through the modern mall opposite and onto the beach before retiring to catch up on more sleep.

 

Weds 25th. We had a frustrating morning sitting in traffic jams in a taxi because protestors against Uber taxis had closed the roads, then failing to apply for an East Timor visa because we didn't have the right paperwork. Eventually we got back to Kuta and had a nice fish and chip lunch (fresh fish from this morning's catch) with a glass of wine, the day's special at the Bamboo bar and grill. In the afternoon we walked through Kuta and along by the beach up to Legian, looking for anything we remembered from our last visit 30 years ago. Nothing seemed familiar until, right at the far end of Legian, we suddenly found the Sari Beach hotel and the nice two-storey thatched house in the lush gardens where we had stayed. It was nice to find something that hadn't changed (apart from the price!). We walked a bit further along the street behind the beach-side hotels and that too was more like we remembered, with clusters of small shops rather than the high-rise malls in Kuta. We got a taxi back (because we'd been walking for 2½ hours and it was a bit much to do it all in reverse) and had a very nice meal and happy-hour (which seems to last all day) sangria and wine at the Damar restaurant near the hotel.

 

Thurs 26th-Sat 28th. We had another trip to the Timor-Leste consulate to drop off our visa application, with only normal traffic delays because yesterday's protestors had gone home. Then another nice lunch at the Bamboo, a bit of a rest in the hottest part of the day then a taxi to Legian to walk around the Aussie bars and little shops and markets before returning to the Damar restaurant for excellent steak and Indonesian curry, with more sangria and wine. The next day we had a walk round the shops then had another wasted journey to the Timor-Leste consulate. The man said to come at 4pm to pick up our visas but we waited at the office until after 5pm and there was still no sign of him so we got fed up and went back to Kuta. The next day, more walking around and we went to Mama's German restaurant and had a selection of sausages with Leffe and Erdinger brown beers.

 

Lombok, Indonesia

 

Sun 29th. We had a very pleasant journey to Lombok despite a delay at the start. The minibus picked us up at the hotel at 6:30 as planned, but then we had an hour's wait for the one other passenger who seemed to be having a long lie in. She sat at the front of the minibus applying makeup and mascara as the minibus ducked and weaved through the traffic on its way to the port at Padang Bai. There we got on a comfortable all-seat fast boat that raced across to Senggigi, a beach resort on Lombok island, in two hours. We got a taxi to the Lombok Astoria hotel in Mataram, the capital, which was a very nice hotel and good value, although well outside the town centre.


Ampenan fishing village, Lombok
After a rest we got a Bluebird (metered) taxi and went on a sightseeing tour to the old fishermens' village near Ampenan old town and the nearby fish and vegetable market, which is busiest in the morning but still pretty active now at 4pm. Then to the Islamic Centre which was a brand-new huge gleaming mosque where the big main minaret had a lift going up the 13 floors to the observation deck at the top where we had a great view of the town and the mountains with Indonesia's second-highest peak looming in the distance. This dormant volcano blew up in 1258 causing the 'year without summer' when the sun turned red, crops failed and there was mass starvation in Europe and elsewhere.
Mayura temple, Mataram Lombok
Finally we went to the picturesque Mayura water temple and walked around the lake ....
Mayura temple, Mataram Lombok
... looking at the picturesque Balinese-style buildings before returning to the hotel.


In the evening we had a couple of Heineken beers in the hotel bar and a delicious, filling chowder in the restaurant.

 

Sumbawa Island, Indonesia

 

Mon 30th. After a nice buffet breakfast at the Astoria the taxi driver came and drove us across Lombok, past the ever-present mountains to the ferry port at Labuhan. The ferry to Sumbawa was very different from the last one, this one was slow and crowded with hard seats, lots of smokers and families with noisy children, but it only took two hours. We noticed several coaches parked among the motorbikes on the vehicle deck below so Sheila had a brainwave and sent me to ask the drivers if they were going to Sape, our destination eight hours away at the other end of Sumbawa. One of them said he was so I raced back upstairs against the tide of departing passengers to retrieve our suitcases and for £10 each we got comfortable reclining seats on the air-con coach. It was a picturesque drive along the trans-Sumbawa highway (a highway, but not as we know it), through more mountains and villages and there was a stop at a restaurant for dinner included in the price. About 10pm we came to a final stop in a bus station and it turned out that the coach only went as far as Bima, a town an hour short of Sape. Don't worry, they said, that bus over there goes to Sape. Oh good we said. Yes, they said, it leaves at 5am but it's alright, you can sleep on the bus! We declined their kind offer and went to the nearby Favorit Hotel and got a clean, basic room for £10. In the bathroom there was a toilet but no sink, clearly there were decisions to be made.

 

Tues 31st. They said we had to be in Sape by 9am to catch the only ferry so we got a ridiculously expensive taxi for £30 for the hour's drive over the mountains to the port, where it all went wrong. The ferry ticket office was closed and various people told us that the ferry would go at 4pm, 6pm or 9pm, but nothing in the morning at all. We met Ozman and Alicia, two other travellers in the same predicament and went to join them at the Rumah Makan cafe just outside the port gates.


Mosque by Sape harbour, Sumbawa
For £6 Sheila got a rather grubby room for the day in the Losmen Mutiana right outside the port gates while I wandered about for six hours taking photos of the rocket-shaped mosque, having cups of tea, reading a book and revisiting the closed ticket office in the port.


Finally about 3pm the ferry came in, a line of lorries and motorbikes drove off, the ticket office opened and for £4 each we got tickets and boarded the ferry. About 5:30pm we set off. We went into the more spacious and comfortable VIP lounge which seemed to be available to everyone at no extra charge, and rented a mattress for £1.25 on which Sheila slept soundly for the whole voyage.

 

Flores Island

 

We arrived at Labuan Bajo at 11:30pm and shared a taxi with Osman and Alicia to the Potilla hotel which was very pleasant and clean but way out of town and with no restaurant or facilities.

 

Weds 1st Nov. The hotel was too far out so we moved down to the Green Hills hotel in the centre of the little town, right among the restaurants and travel agents. The only drawback was the hill and our room was up 100 steep steps, tiring but with a great view of the boats and islands in the harbour. We hadn't really eaten for 24 hours so we went across the road to the Mediterrano restaurant for tasty pasta and pizza with sangria and wine and sat out a sudden tropical storm that thundered on the roof for half an hour. Before the post-wine sleepiness kicked in we arranged a boat trip for tomorrow and I relaxed with a cup of tea in the little cafe by the hotel while Sheila snoozed.


Labuan Bajo harbour
In the evening after admiring the view of the harbour at dusk ....
Mediterrano restaurant Labuan Bajo

 .... we went back to the very busy and popular Mediterrano for delicious Milanese beef and Barracuda steak.

 

Thurs 2nd. Labuan Bajo only exists because of its port so we went on a boat ride, with the main objective of seeing the Komodo Dragons (giant dinosaur-like lizards). We sailed for an hour across the calm sea between a scattering of islands until we reached Rinca Island, part of Komodo National Park, the island which has the largest number of dragons at the moment (the numbers rise and fall over time).


Komodo dragon building a nest
A guide took us on an hour's trek through jungle and savannah where we saw a female dragon building her nest, as well as Guinea fowl, deer and water buffalo ....
Komodo dragons, Rinca island
.... but the largest group of dragons we saw, about a dozen, were hanging around the kitchen area of the little settlement, waiting for food handouts.
Kanawa island resort
We left Rinca Island and sailed back to Kanawa Island where we paddled in the sea up and down the shell-strewn beach and at one end we saw perhaps the rarest creature of the day, a small manta ray swimming into the seaweed. We had a look at the Kanawa 'resort' which was a cluster of tumble-down wooden huts with open-air bathrooms, costing £40 a night.


We returned to Labuan Bajo harbour very satisfied with the excursion and later went back to the Mediterrano for another wonderful meal of barracuda and sea-bass with white and red wine, followed by complimentary Limoncello from the Italian owner.

 

Fri 3rd. We had a lazy day sitting around reading then another nice meal of barracuda at the Mediterrano.

 

Kupang, Timor Island

 

Sat 4th. Luckily the little airport at Labuan Bajo was only ten minutes’ drive from the town and the formalities for domestic flights were minimal so we didn't have to leave too early for our 7:20 flight to Bali and then on to Kupang in Timor. Everything went smoothly and on time so soon we were on Timor, our fifth island. We got a taxi to the Aston Hotel, a very nice modern high-rise place with very friendly staff and we got a very good weekend rate of £44 for a sea-view room and extensive breakfast. We went to one of three in-house restaurants for a Philly steak sandwich and a chicken chimichanga, with a Heineken and a Guinness for lunch. We found out there was an all-you-can-eat buffet BBQ on the balcony restaurant in the evening so we wished we hadn't had so much lunch, but luckily our appetites had recovered and we made the most of the buffet and enjoyed the live band until they went 'on a break' at 9:30 and we staggered up to the room for a cup of tea.

 

Sun 5th. Sheila attempted her one and only sunbathe by the deserted pool after breakfast but soon became too hot and bothered to continue.


Stick insect in Kupang, Indonesia
We found a stick insect lurking in the leaves of a colourful tree in the hotel grounds.


After a quiet day we went out to the Beer and Barrel restaurant at the Sotis hotel for an evening meal. It started well but soon degenerated into a fiasco. The restaurant was in the open air in a nice setting by the hotel pool next to the beach and the evening was pleasantly warm. We had a 'basket of beer ' (five bottles of three types of San Miguels) and prawn spring rolls for a tasty starter. But the service was awful, the waitress disappeared for lengthy periods and we had to go and ask for a knife and fork. Then every main course we ordered was 'sold out' including fish and chips – we were 50 yards from the ocean and a five-minute drive from the fish market but they had no fish! We gave up and asked them to call a taxi back to our hotel. After a long wait the security man came up (all the other staff had disappeared) and told us they couldn't order a taxi, so in the end we accepted a lift on his motorbike and for £1.50 went three-on-a-bike back to our hotel! We finished the evening in our own restaurant sharing an excellent pepperoni pizza and a bottle of Heineken.

 

Mon 6th. The Timor-Leste embassy in Kupang was much friendlier and better organised than the one in Bali and after carefully checking our documents they said they would try to have our visas ready tomorrow afternoon. On the way back in the taxi we posted a letter at the post office, stopped at a supermarket to buy water and orange juice and finally to Timor Travel to book three seats (so we can spread out) on the minibus to Dili. Back at the hotel I set out in the sunshine to go to the ATM and have a look at a restaurant just down the road, but before I got there a huge downpour and thunderstorm forced me to take cover under a leaky shelter for half an hour. Eventually I picked my way through the waterlogged streets to finish my mission and returned to the hotel for a nice cappuccino sitting in the lobby in the returned sunshine. In the evening we had a very nice meal sitting out on the balcony in the Balcony restaurant in the hotel, salad Nicoise and another super pepperoni pizza with Heineken and Guinness.

 

Tues 7th. After a quiet morning we went to make the most of 'Tuesday madness' in the Balcony restaurant where all food was 50% off. Sheila had a (very small) lobster thermidor and I had a (very tough) sirloin steak. In the afternoon we booked an hour in the hotel's taxi to go and collect our visas at the very friendly Timor-Leste consulate then had a drive through Kupang old town, stopping at a little fort for a view of the sea and boats. When we got back to the hotel after an hour the usual taxi driver disagreement developed when he insisted that there was a two-hour minimum so we should pay for two hours. After arguing for a little while we said alright, we'll have a second hour driving round the town, at which point he backed down because he had another appointment and couldn't have taken us anyway. In the evening we just had another very nice pizza with Heineken and Guinness at the Balcony.

 

Weds 8th. Amazingly the hotel starts serving breakfast at 4am so when we went downstairs at 5am to wait for the pickup for the bus to Dili, we were able to snatch a bit of breakfast before it arrived. Sheila also made some cheese and salami rolls which we ate at the lunch stop where the other passengers were tucking into fish heads. The minibus that picked us up was modern and comfortable and we had booked the three back seats for extra space, so we set off in a cheerful mood. The convoy of four minibuses gathered at Timor Travel's office and there was a lot of rearranging and moving around, and we ended up in the oldest, grottiest, slowest one. This made Sheila very annoyed and she grumbled about everything to do with the journey the whole way. We had to ask the driver to turn the blaring music down, there were endless toilet and cigarette stops and our bus could hardly get up the steep hills, grinding in first gear as the other buses along with lorries and everything else on the road whizzed past. Nevertheless I enjoyed the ride through the winding mountain roads, looking at the scenery.

 

Timor-Leste

 

The border crossing was a bit hot and crowded but well organised and the magic visa paper the Kupang consulate gave us got us in without a hitch. There was some confusion until we discovered a different set of minibuses parked on a patch of mud away over at one side outside the border post and ours was a lot more comfortable this time. The road on the Timor-Leste side was also picturesque, running alongside the sea, sometimes up on steep cliffs and other times just feet away from the waves. With relief after a long day we arrived at the Plaza hotel in central Dili about 7pm. They gave us a lovely big suite (Sheila is very good at getting the best rooms) and after a quick wash and brush-up we went to the adjacent Great Wall Chinese restaurant for a 'welcome drink' (including choice of wine or beer) then delicious Shanghai-style hot and sour soup, stir-fry fish fillet with ginger and spring onion and curried prawns, with a bottle of sparkling wine. Although many things in Dili are more expensive than Indonesia, wine is much cheaper, although still £15 a bottle.

 

Thurs 9th. After a nice freshly-cooked breakfast in the 'Breakfast Hall' at the Plaza (a small room with five tables and a kitchen attached) we got a blue taxi right across town to the Timor Plaza mall. It was an interesting sightseeing ride along the waterfront road and past the port and the Government Palace, but the mall was a disappointment for Sheila who couldn't find anything at all to spend her money on, and she really tried! We had a frozen yogurt with rather suspect elderly raspberries for lunch then returned to the hotel for Sheila's afternoon nap. I went for a lengthy walk looking for a bakery-cafe marked on the map but it didn't seem to exist any more so I ended up having a coffee and cake at Gloria Jean's coffees a few doors along from the hotel. In the evening we had a walk down to the seafront where there was a Zumba class in progress, then had another lovely meal and bottle of sparkling wine at the Great Wall next door.

 

Fri 10th.

Big fish in Dili, Timor-Leste
After breakfast in the Breakfast Hall I went for a walk along the seafront in the not-quite-so-hot morning and found the place where fish was being unloaded from boats into pickup trucks, including two giants which a man tried to buy and was told they were US$140 each.


After failing to exchange books at Xananda's Reading Rooms, which was more like a public lending library, we got a blue taxi to the post office to post a letter then on to the cathedral, a large impressive building but rather stuffy inside. The taxi then dropped us opposite the Parliament building and we walked along the seafront in the midday sun trying to get a suntan. We noticed Moby's backpacker hostel, bar and restaurant across the road and stopped in their friendly bar for a couple of Super Bock light and dark/stout beers, a Portuguese favourite apparently. Back in our nice big, bright room at the Plaza hotel we had a couple of mugs of soup to finish our lunch.


Christo Rei, Dili East Timor
In the evening we got a taxi out to Metiaut Beach along the coast as far as Christo Rei (Timor-Leste's answer to Rio de Janiero although not quite as impressive we suspect) looking for the fish market ...
Mincing band, Dili
...  but it was very small so we came straight back to the port where, instead of the Zumba last night, tonight there was a very entertaining drumming/marching band practicing, so we sat and watched them as the sun went down and a family came and launched their boat down the slipway for the weekend.


Finally we retired to the Great Wall restaurant for another wonderful meal with Eric our host, with 20% off the price as a special one-night promotion for hotel guests!

 

Bali again

 

Sat 11th. The hotel taxi took us to the little Dili international airport where we found that our Nam Air flight to Bali had been cancelled, but they moved us onto a flight on Sriwijaya Air two hours later. This left on time and we got a chicken steak lunch so it wasn't so bad. Eco our lovely Bali taxi man met us and took us to the Fashion hotel in Legian street where we got a trendy, boutique-style suite. By now it was 5pm so we strolled down Legian street and Kuta Square to our favourite Damar restaurant where we had another nice steak and Indonesian fish dish with 2-for-1 sangria and red wine.

 

Sun 12th. The Fashion hotel was a masterpiece of fashion over function – everything was diamond-shaped, the teacups at breakfast were almost impossible to drink out of, the soap was diamond-shaped and difficult to use and the room had the most uncomfortable armchair ever.


Azul Beach Club, Legian Bali
We got a taxi to the very plush Discovery Hotel at the south end of Kuta and strolled, looking at shops, all the way through Kuta and along the road by Legian back to the far end where we stopped for a refreshing cold beer and cider at the big, impressive bamboo-built Azul Beach club at the Mandira hotel.


We stopped for a delicious passion-fruit sorbet in the shopping street behind the northern Legian hotels, then strolled back along Legian Street to our hotel. In the evening we went just down the road to Mama's German restaurant and had delicious smoked Marlin for a starter and currywurst, krakauerwurst and pork steak for mains, with copious Erdinger dark beers – nice but a very expensive meal.

 

Mon 13th. At 5 o'clock in the morning the streets were miraculously clear of traffic and we went from the hotel to sitting in the lounge at the airport in exactly half an hour. We lingered there too long, and as we walked towards the boarding gate we heard them paging our names, only they couldn’t pronounce them properly which was our excuse for being late to board!

 

Bangkok again.

 

We flew to Bangkok and got a taxi to State Tower, one of the huge tower blocks on Silom Road, where by arrangement we waited for Palmmie in the ground floor Starbuck's. She took us up to our very nice apartment no. 1208 on the 45th floor but unfortunately the window looked out onto a wall and had no view of the sky, so we had no sense of the height or even the time of day. After unpacking a bit we got a taxi across town to Khao San road, the traveller's area near the grand palace, where we went on a booking spree and arranged a train ticket for a trip to Laos, a bus to Siem Reap in Cambodia and a hotel for when we get back.


Stir-fry barrow, Khao San road
We then had a delicious pad thai and spring rolls from a street barrow sitting on plastic buffets, and a mango and sticky rice from the next barrow, which made a tasty dinner for under £4.


We finished off with an Erdinger brown beer at a nearby bar which cost way more than the meal, then got a taxi to struggle through the traffic jams back to Silom. Amazingly even in the worst traffic jams nobody sounds their horns all the time – in India you’d be deafened, and amazingly here the hordes of motorbikes and scooters actually use their mirrors.

 

Tues 14th. We had a short walk down to the Oriental hotel on the river-front and sat for a few minutes in the lovely old Authors' lounge. Then because Sheila had an urge to shop we got a taxi over to the Pratunam Market which was certainly extensive but full of rather tatty stuff. We had lunch of sausages from a street barrow then walked back down Ratchadamri Road across the canal, stopping at malls along the way until we got to the much more up-market Isetan mall which was much more to Sheila's requirements although not her budget. We walked along Ploenchit Road to the Central department store, also more up-market to Sheila's taste, then back to Erawan corner where the little shrine was still busy with worshippers, tourists and the temple dancing girls. The adjacent Erawan hotel that we remembered from previous visits (where Sheila bought a pear-shaped ruby many years ago to make into a ring) had been demolished some years ago and replaced by a vast new Erawan hotel, part of the Hyatt group. We got a taxi down Silom Road towards our apartment but as the traffic seized up we got out at 'Silom Village', a nice-looking open-air restaurant and shopping complex, then walked on along Silom Road spotting an Italian and a Turkish restaurant that might be worth investigating. In the evening we did indeed return to the Torlente Italian restaurant and had a very nice meal of Gorgonzola and Parmesan cheeses with pizza bread for starter, and spaghetti with garlic and bacon and pizza Napolitana, with a large Singha beer and a carafe of red wine.

 

Weds 15th. We flopped around in the apartment all morning and checked out at midday (meaning we left the keys on the table and went). We dropped the case we're taking with us at left luggage at the train station, and left the one we're not taking at DD-in-the-Park in Khao San road for when we come back. We wandered up and down a bit then had a couple of Erdinger dark beers with a spicy beef salad and spring rolls at The One, a bar built up in terraces with a view of the world coming and going along the road. We did some Internet bits and pieces at one of the few surviving Internet cafes in the shopping arcade by DD's, then got a tuk-tuk back to the railway station (much quicker than a taxi but more expensive). Our train was already waiting so we moved into our two-berth compartment which was very impressive – very modern, spacious and spotlessly clean. We settled back in the comfy armchairs and watched the show on the next platform, where a film crew was filming something supposedly at Lahore railway station according to the temporary sign they erected. There was no actual filming all the time we watched, just stressed directors running around moving props and re-positioning actors. Our train attendant came and converted the armchairs into beds and made them up with crisp clean bedding, a man from the restaurant car came round taking orders for food (although I had already ordered a cup of tea on the touch-screen in-flight display, which throughout the journey showed which station was coming next, how fast we were going and our ETA at the destination). Exactly on time at 8:30pm we pulled smoothly out of the station.

 

Ubon Ratchathani

 

Thurs 16th. It was a pleasant, comfortable ride and we slept well, except for being too cold because of the over-air-conditioning, so that Sheila had to use the large towels as extra blankets. We arrived at Ubon Ratchathani only ten minutes late which wasn’t bad. A very helpful lady at tourist information in the station explained the options for getting to Laos and arranged a taxi to the bus station for 150 Baht (£3.50), emphasizing that we should buy our tickets for the international bus as soon as we got there, before we start thinking about breakfast! So we did and it was very straightforward, two tickets for £5 each on the bus all the way to Paksé in Laos. Then we went to the bus station cafe for nice stir-fry veg, a crispy omelette and cups of coffee. The bus was quite comfortable and left more or less on time for the two-hour run to the Laos border.

 

Paksé, Laos

 

Getting out of Thailand was very straightforward but the Laos side of the border was rather a shambles and quite chaotic. After hanging round a bit we got our visa-on-arrival (US$30 each) easily enough but some other people seemed to have a problem and it was quite a while before the bus got going again. In less than an hour we crossed the Mekong river on a long bridge and were in Paksé, and went to the nice Paksé hotel right in the middle of the compact little town. We got a room with a view of the Mekong (just) and a bathtub to have a nice refreshing bath, then walked to the road with a selection of hotels and restaurants to have a Heineken and share a tasty fish and chips for lunch.


Le Panorama bar, Pakse Laos

After that it wasn’t long until happy hour when drinks were two-for-one in the very popular Le Panorama rooftop bar and restaurant on top of the Paksé hotel, so we went up to admire the view of the river and the hills beyond, with some 2-for-1 reasonable red wines and absolutely awful white wine (Sheila ordered a lemonade to hide the taste). We shared a nice anchovy pizza as dusk descended and had an early night.

 

Fri 17th. We went on a tour to Wat Phu world heritage site, the second reason we came all this way (the first was because we enjoy sleeping in the cozy two-berth compartment on the train). After a good breakfast at the Paksé hotel the minibus picked us up at 8am as arranged and we went to the Paksé Travel office on South Road, where everyone swapped around to different minibuses for different tours and we ended up in a comfortable car because there were just four of us, We had a friendly Japanese and a nice Korean chap along with us.


Wat Phu Champasak, Laos
After an hour and a bit drive along the Mekong river we arrived at Wat Phu, an early Khmer-style temple complex similar but smaller than the later ones at Angkor. There weren’t many other visitors and it was all very peaceful as we struggled up the steep steps, slippery with dust, pausing to take photos of the sentinel statue on the second level and all the great views down to the Mekong.


At the top we wandered around the sanctuary, the sacred spring and with difficulty found the ancient crocodile and elephant carvings amid the jumble of giant boulders. It was all very interesting and enjoyable, but also hot and tiring. We struggled down the steep, tricky steps and had a Coca-cola flavoured ice lolly from a shop at the bottom, then our driver took us to a hotel restaurant in nearby Champasak village where we had some lunch sitting on a balcony built out over the Mekong river. Then we drove back to Paksé all falling asleep (except the driver, I hope). I had a walk round Paksé town and looked round the pretty Wat Luang temple before having a nice pot of tea at the stylish Sinouk salon de thé and coffee shop.


Sunset at Le Panorama, Pakse

As soon as happy hour started we were back up to Le Panorama on the rooftop to watch the colourful sunset and enjoy a couple of Tiger beers and red wines, and a delicious meal of steak with blue cheese sauce and chicken breast stuffed with slightly spicy crab meat.

motorcycle side-car tuk-tuk, Pakse Laos

Sat 18th. Everyone said Lao Kip money would be no good in Thailand so I changed everything I’d got left into Thai Baht, then a motorcycle side-car tuk-tuk took us to the bus station way out of town where we got the bus to the Thai border.

 

 

Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand

 

Of course, at the Lao side of the border there is a 10,000 Kip exit tax (just under £1) and I had to pay in Thai Baht which cost a bit more, but that’s the price of learning. The bus ride to Ubon Ratchathani seemed much shorter than when we came the other way, probably because we dozed most of the way this time. Reasonably enough Sheila didn’t want to spend six hours in the railway station so we went to the Ubon hotel in the centre of town and got a room to relax in for 500 Baht (£12). We had a sandwich and coffee at nearby Café Amazon which is like a jungle-themed Starbucks, then while Sheila relaxed I went for a long hot walk round Ubon. I went down to the bridge over the river Moon past the market which had gone to sleep for the afternoon and up some shopping streets which seemed deserted of customers and past the empty park.


Wat Thuang Si Muang, Ubon Ratchathani
I was beginning to give up on Ubon when I went into Wat Thuang Si Muang which at first seemed to be a rather scruffy complex of average temple buildings until I discovered a lovely little old, wooden temple on stilts in a lotus pool in the center of the complex. It was picturesque and atmospheric and worth the walk.


As we left the hotel there was a band and group of Thai dancers performing in the car park outside the restaurant who really seemed to be enjoying themselves, apparently to do with some sort of celebration or event. We got a taxi to the station and boarded another immaculately clean and rather warmer sleeper train for the pleasant ride to Bangkok. Sheila had prepared for the air-conditioning by going to the inspector's office at the station and getting a note written in Thai language saying 'give this lady an extra blanket' - she was warm as toast for the whole journey!

 

Sun 19th. It was still dark when we arrived at Bangkok station at 6am and everywhere was quiet and sleepy. We got a taxi to Khao San road, picked our way through last night’s drunks and empty beer bottles and had breakfast at one of the few places that were open.

 

Siem Reap (Angkor), Cambodia

 

As arranged a man from the bus company met us at DD Inn and took us to a very smart, red double-decker bus which drove us comfortably to the Cambodia border four hours away, with a short stop for a spicy lunch at a food court in a service area. We did our own formalities at Cambodia immigration which was quite straightforward, although most of the passengers used the bus company’s $10 service and sat and waited on the bus but we preferred to stretch our legs. As we arrived in Siem Reap dusk was falling and rain was falling even harder and everything looked a bit gloomy and muddy, but the bus fare included transfer to our hotel, La Rivière d’Angkor, which was lovely.


La Riviere D'Angkor hotel, Siem Reap
Sheila had booked a detached garden suite bungalow surrounded by tropical gardens (where does she get these delusions of grandeur?), and the reception area had a little river with goldfish running through it. By the time we’d unpacked and admired our suite a bit the rain had stopped so we went to the hotel bar for our free daily cocktails (included in the room rate - also included was free laundry) – Sheila had a Pina Colada and I had a Mai Tai.
Cambodian barbecueue, Siem Reap

We walked into town which wasn’t far (although Siem Reap has expanded enormously since were here 17 years ago - back then there was no airport and only a mud road to Bangkok). We were specifically looking for a Cambodian barbecue restaurant like the one we enjoyed last time and we found one in The Passage, a pedestrian arcade near the market. The BBQ was delicious, cooking our meat and vegs on the little barbecue installed in the middle of the table (the meat selection included crocodile and ostrich and the vegs were replenished as often as we wanted), and washed down with Angkor beer and red wine. The price, of course, had shot up to £40.

 

Mon 20th. We had a nice breakfast in the dining room in an old colonial-style house at La Rivière while the rain pattered ominously on the palm leaves in the luxuriant gardens and pelted on the swimming pool. Nevertheless we set out to do the tour of the Angkor temples in the hotel’s comfy large tuk-tuk. When we were here 17 years ago we ‘did’ all the temples very comprehensively over three days, so today we got a one-day pass for $37 at the huge new ticket centre (it was just a little booth last time) and went to see just a few of the highlights (a three-day pass would have cost $62).


Angkor Wat
We started with Angkor Wat itself but it was absolutely heaving with literally thousands of tourists, most of them Chinese, so we couldn’t recapture any of the atmosphere we felt last time. At least the steep steps up to the central tower now had less-narrow wooden stairs with handrails laid over the uneven old stone steps, but the queue to use them was lengthy. This photo is a rare shot in a moment when the crowds had thinned.
Bayon stone faces, Angkor
Next we went to the Bayon which was not quite so crowded, where we were again captivated by the tranquil, smiling faces set into every aspect of the stonework....
Bayon wall carvings, Angkor
.... and the elaborate, well-preserved carvings on the walls of the covered walkway round the base.


We walked along the Elephant Terrace under the hotel umbrellas we’d borrowed because the rain had started up again (but there were no elephant rides on offer this time), then left the Angkor Thom complex by the East Gate, stopped for a quick look at Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda temples nearby, then walked through the Ta Prohm complex which was extremely crowded but fascinating with many of the huge jungle trees still standing with their roots wrapped round the temple ruins. Finally we walked through the nearby Banteay Kdei complex which was nicely atmospheric, before retiring to the hotel after a good seven-hour tour. When it was cocktail time Sheila had a Mojito and I had Long Island Ice Tea, then we walked by the river into town and had a look round the market which was beginning to close up (the night market is a bit further away). We walked around the restaurant streets and chose one with a saxophonist playing live music and had a very nice steak from the barbecue. On the way back we had a passion-fruit rolled-up ice cream from a street stall then walked back along ‘Pub Street’ which was rather loud and garish.

 

Tues 21st. After all the sightseeing yesterday we had a quiet day today.


Siem Reap market, Cambodia
We had a walk around the market, then in the afternoon I walked up to the Grand Hotel and confirmed that the Elephant Bar where we used to have a drink 17 years ago was still there. On the way back I stopped at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club and had a coffee and stroked the friendly ginger cat.
Fish nibbling foot cleaning, Siem Reap
In the evening after our cocktails (Sex on the Beach and Singapore Sling) we went to the market and Sheila had her feet nibbled by fish in one of those fish foot-cleaning tanks but she didn't like it and pulled a face the whole time - she won't be doing that again.


Then we went to the Temple restaurant in Pub Street for a delicious Pizza.

 

Weds 22nd. The bus back to Bangkok had big, wide armchair seats, only three across the width of the bus, and lots of legroom which I found comfortable but Sheila took against it, mainly because the passenger in front of her reclined into her lap for nine of the ten-hour journey.

 

Bangkok again

 

Grand Palace from Dang Derm hotel Bangkok
They had saved Sheila's hand-picked room 5502 with the fabulous view of the Grand Palace at Dang Derm in the Park, a new hotel on Khao San Road.


After unpacking we went back to The One for expensive Erdinger brown beers, then had cheap and very tasty pad thai and spring rolls from the street stall and sat on plastic chairs in the street to eat them, then finished off with Sheila’s mango and sticky rice from another favourite street stall.

 

Thurs 23rd. We went for a bit of sightseeing in Bangkok. Starting in a tuk-tuk we went to Wat Indaraviham, a new-looking, quiet temple with a big standing Buddha, then Wat Benchamabhopit, the ‘Marble Temple’, which was nice but much busier with tourists.


Wat Pho, Bangkok
Then the tuk-tuk dropped us at Wat Pho, one of our favourite temples ....
Wat Pho, Bangkok
.... a big complex full of fascinating monuments ....
Wat Pho reclining Buddha
.... and a huge reclining Buddha, ....
Wat Pho reclining Buddha monks
.... popular with all kinds of tourists!


We walked up towards the most popular of all, Wat Phra Kaeo and the Grand Palace but we couldn’t get near them for the crowds. We walked to the riverside piers and through the market looking for temple bells to buy but couldn’t find any, then walked back to Khao San road. We had a nice lunch at a wine bar called The Tasting Room. For dinner we got a taxi across town to Silom and went back to Torlente Italian restaurant for another nice cheese starter and pepperoni pizza main course with beer and a carafe of red wine. The taxi driver dropped us off at a whole different Khao San road that we didn’t know existed, running parallel with the well-known one. This was a more sanitized version with lots of activity, bars and restaurant, but a bit less bucket-of-beer boozy and less deafening rap but more our sort of music and we resolved to check it out tomorrow.

 

Fri 24th. Sheila went for some beauty treatments on the other Khao San road while I read a book in a café opposite, then we got a taxi to Central World near the Erawan, hoping to have prawns for lunch at the food market that was there when we came a few days ago. However, the food market had been replaced by lots of Christmas decorations which looked lovely when lit up at night, so we walked along Phloen Chit Road, stopping for raspberry & lemon sorbet at Harrods along the way, until we got to Nana Street where we stopped for a couple of beers in one of the bars and had a very interesting chat with Ngamta, one of the bar girls there. Against advice, Sheila bought a knock-off Samsung 7 telephone from a street seller which she liked because it was white - we'll see if it works when we get home. Then we went across the road to the Akbar Indian restaurant, our favourite that we visited several times on previous visits, and had an absolutely delicious Indian meal.

 

Sat 25th. It felt like time to leave so we flopped around all day, had more mango and sticky rice of course, then got a taxi at 6pm out to Suvarnabhumi, the new international airport. Check-in, security and passport control were easy and soon we were in the excellent Miracle Lounge, having dinner from the selection of salads and cooked meals provided, with copious amounts of red and sparkling pink wines to accompany it. We flew home.

 

Tuk tuk of baskets, Siem Reap
All the shopping baskets you could possibly need, brought to your door!

 

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