Arriving in Bangkok on a Monday afternoon, to traffic jams, hot and tired, I could hardly take in this large noisy city where street vendors and tuc tucs are the norm alongside modern skyscrapers and the city Skyrail system.
A good night’s sleep and a day later I was aboard the most famous Eastern & Oriental Express travelling to the North of Thailand.
It was an oasis of luxury and comfort and as the train sped through small stations and villages, I had a brief glimpse of life in a bygone era of elegance and all things fine.
Reluctantly I left the train at Chiang Mai, but here at the Chedi hotel on the River Pring further adventures were to unfold. Glittering gold temples and stories of Buddha abound here; butterflies and birds fill the air in beautiful gardens. The people are quietly spoken, gentle and happy to please you. Elephants! Elephants – the symbol of friendship, are friends of the people, helping to work the forests and the mahouts look after them as friends, bathing and caring for these kind and gentle animals.
Thai silk is world famous, and I learned about cocoons and silk worms – silk is spun and weaved on traditional looms, painstaking hours to create something so beautiful.
From Chiang Mai, I travelled further north to Chiang Rai and on to the infamous Golden Triangle. The turbulent history of the area and it’s Opium Market is hard to imagine in the fabulous peace and quiet at The Anantara Retreat hotel.
The mighty Mekong River and its tributary here divide 3 countries – Thailand, Burma (Myanmar) and Laos, and I could see all three from my room at The Anantara. That day, I went with the guide over the border to Burma along with local vendors and their wares – even a boy on a bicycle with a box of live crabs!
Children followed us everywhere, cheeky and grinning, selling anything and everything – even Viagra!
Up here in the far north, civilisation seemed so far away…visiting the hill tribe long-neck women of Karen, I was told the reasons why they start at 4 years old , wearing rings that can weigh up to 10 kilos for the rest of their lives – but I still find it hard to understand.
Leaving them to continue their traditions I flew to Bangkok for a few days at the beach at Hua Hin. This, home town of HM King Bhumibol Andulyades Rama IX, was festive and gay in anticipation of the King’s 80th birthday in December.
Floating markets – that’s a must on a visit to Thailand…if you can ignore the smelly canals and enjoy the chaos of boats navigating the narrow channels, while still selling, cooking and serving passing tourists and locals!
After cursing the British and the East India Company at the Golden Triangle, my tack changed to uphold the amazing courage and hardship of the British and Australian POW’s at the Bridge on the River Kwai. I crossed on foot and wondered what they would make of the floating hotel and souvenir stalls all around it.
But I wandered through the museum in shock and horror at the cost of human life to build the railway and the bridge.
And then, with a huge lump in my throat, I walked through the immaculate cemetery, reading names and ages of the soldiers – early 20’s was the norm.
I returned to Bangkok, after my journey through Thailand and I looked again at the clutter, and chaos of its streets – but I saw something completely different this time – the spirit and soul, richness and colour and the polite gentleness of the people. I saw food – simple and plenty for everyone, fish and rice, anytime. I felt their quiet within and was touched by the warmth of their smiles, everywhere – and I smelled…I smelled, orchids!