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Sorry to use a cliché, but the past 12 months have continued to be spent in tropical Thailand, and while Bangkok lacks the beaches and tranquility that most would associate with an earthly Eden, it has, for the most part, been a year that was good to me.
What a shame that the country’s political scene is once again threatening to spoil 2014 almost as soon as it starts, but for now my focus is on what did happen, rather than what might, as I sum up 2013.
Thankfully, all my loved ones remained fit and well last year, including my three 80-something grandparents. Most importantly, my Scottish Grandma, who has always been full of vigour, has remained so since the death of Grandpa in 2012. If anything, she has thrived, having now been freed from the duties of caring for him virtually full time in the decade or so before he passed away. She has travelled, met her great-grandchildren and been busier than ever in her community. On top of this, when I visited her in June, we enjoyed some brisk walks amid the glorious Highland scenery and she set a pace that would put many people half her age to shame. Long may this continue!
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Thailand’s image needs all the help it can get right now. Last month’s dramatic footage of bomb sites and gun fights across Bangkok played out internationally and many countries have yet to lift their travel warnings to the erstwhile Land of Smiles.
For sure, confidence has been rocked, and even beyond the photos of war on the streets, the reputation of Thai people as gentle, benevolent Buddhists has been tarnished by displays of downright ugly behaviour during such fractious times.
Whether the protesters promising – and almost succeeding – to turn Bangkok into a “sea of fire”, or their opponents cheering and swearing as the death toll neared a hundred, there was precious little positive humanity on display.
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As Bangkok burned, I made good my escape. Evacuated from my workplace as Red Shirts descended on the road to my office, with their brothers bombing and torching dozens of important and iconic buildings around the city, I met my girlfriend Waew and together we headed for Hua Hin, a seaside retreat a couple of hours’ drive south.
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Hua Hin is the best beach spot within easy reach of Bangkok – by a long way, in my opinion.
Pattaya remains the busiest, but its popularity is more due to it being Thailand’s sex central – and unabashed position as such – rather than its unremarkable beach, dirty sea and culture-less city centre.
Cha-Am and Bang Saen have a nice atmosphere to them, but their beaches are gritty, with parasols spoiling most of the views (Thais like to be beside the seaside as much as Europeans, but hate the prospect of the sunshine darkening their skin).
Ko Samet and Ko Chang are both wonderful, but at around 4-5 hours’ drive from Bangkok, plus a ferry ride, they’re just a tad too far for a short hop.
Hua Hin, then, at 2-3 hours’ drive from Bangkok, is not only viable but also offers a lot that the aforementioned seaside spots don’t. Continue reading
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Ah, a taste of home. And no, I don’t mean a jar of Marmite or a pint of bitter. I mean a newspaper headline that will be all-too familiar to anyone who is from or has lived in Britain. “4,000 stranded in rail chaos” was splashed on the front page of today’s Bangkok Post.
Rail chaos. Words that are so familiar to the Brit, they’re almost like the lyrics from a favourite childhood song. Nostalgic, even.
The story is that strike action forced the cancellation of the majority of services in, to and from the southern province of Surat Thani, with passengers left stranded or to find alternative means of transport.
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The first item on the agenda is to fill in the gaps between September 2008 and September 2009, before I will start writing about more timely stuff, as and when it happens. I will be concise, because 12 months is a long time to chronicle, and will perhaps return to certain points in more detail at a later date.
Everyone who knows me will know how much I love to travel. The prospect of living and working abroad always excited me, and now I am doing it. I expected that living in Thailand would enable me to jet off to nearby Asian countries frequently, not to mention that Thailand itself is chock-full of attractive destinations.