Somehow our Asian adventure feels almost dreamlike now, so far removed from regular life that it could all have taken place in a parallel universe! It was a fabulously luxurious, fascinating peek into a part of the world entirely unknown to me until now and it was a wonderful way to be reminded of how much I enjoy travel. The opportunity to peek into lives which could have been our own had we simply been born to different parents is a privilege.
I have always enjoyed travel, and perhaps had the internet and blogging existed when I was in my teens and twenties I would have seen the possibilities of creating a career around it. Instead, much of my travel has been as a consequence of M’s career which I wrote a little about before we went away here. I have had the pleasure of exploring little corners of many cities and countries, and more adventurous travels saw me in living in a Kibbutz in Israel and travelling Egypt by train which could not have been further removed from our recent experience!
My eclectic working history (hard to call it a career) has not lent itself to business trips though, and to be invited to accompany M on such a remarkable journey alongside many other partners was an extraordinary occurrence. I can feel myself hesitating to share all the details of this trip, but to write about it is a wonderful way to record it such that I can return to it over and over.
Following our lovely ski trip, and after a slightly frantic 48 hours of unpacking, repacking, food shopping and panicking about abandoning the girls it was time to leave again and meet M at an airport hotel in preparation for an early start in the morning. We planned supper in the bar and an early night, but promptly bumped into several other couples also joining the trip and the early night was abandoned! Still, with 13 hours on an aeroplane to kill the next day a little less sleep seemed to matter not.
One of the things I have disliked about organised travel in the past is the feeling of being herded from one place to another, and while I see the unavoidable necessity of this for groups it feels somehow undignified. I need not have worried in this case for the entire trip was coordinated by an exceptional events team who were ever present but entirely unobtrusive. We were cheerfully met at check in (at which point it’s fair to say I was probably more excited about the prospect of lounge access and business class seats than the trip itself!) and seamlessly organised from that moment on.
I have done a reasonable amount of long haul travel, and thirteen hours on an aeroplane is a long time, but I’m happy to admit that spending it in the comfort found by turning left as you board assures you of a far more pleasurable flight! A glass of champagne, a delicious (by airline standards) meal, a movie, a doze and a book later we arrived in Bangkok.
By lunchtime almost all of the 110 groups had arrived at the truly splendid Bangkok Mandarin Oriental where our buffet lunch was rapidly moved inside due to a torrential rain storm! Many introductions later we each embarked upon our chosen afternoon activity. M and I joined about 30 others on a bicycle tour around parts of Chinatown and many back streets where I saw a photo opportunity at every blink, but was largely unable to stop and snap given our guide’s great enthusiasm to move at a reasonable pace!
What a fabulous way to see part of the city though, thoroughly immersed in not only the sights but in the sounds and smells too. I loved wobbling along the little alleys and sneaking a glance into tiny businesses and homes that we would never otherwise have seen; it’s a while since I did much bike riding but I was reminded of how much fun it can be.
On our return to the hotel we had just enough time for a sociable drink on the terrace before enjoying the colonial style luxury of our beautiful room as we prepared to go out for dinner. I do love a hotel room, and they really don’t get much better than this, although I confess I didn’t have time to explore the mini bar thoroughly or to finish the bowl of delicious lychees!
Our evening was spent enjoying drinks and the first of many utterly delicious dinners atop one of Bangkok’s tallest hotels. I love seeing a city from above, and to do so at night from such a height that the traffic is merely moving lights and the buildings all twinkle is marvellous. Our evening was rounded off with a tuktuk ride, a first for me and so enthusiastic was I that I decided we should start manufacturing them in Bristol (ok, I had had one or two glasses of wine!). I was however holding on far too tightly to consider any photographic research for this!
A blissful night’s sleep, full use of the fabulous bathroom and some very tasty noodles for breakfast prepared us for the morning’s boat trip… almost! As we watched the Khlongs whizz up and down the river from the breakfast room they looked like a wonderful mode of transport and I was looking forward to getting some really good shots of the city from the water. But the reality of smacking up and down on the water at greater speed than I imagined meant that a core of steel and arms to match were required to have half a chance of composing a shot. These I do not possess. It was a really fun way however to see the exterior of the Grand Palace and several temples, although on observing several pipes depositing what looked like raw sewage into the river I did keep my mouth firmly shut for much of the ride!
The Eastern and Oriental Express
Another lovely meal, full of new flavours and combinations, and a quick rejig of the suitcases then we headed to the station to board the Eastern and Oriental Express. I knew this was going to be special, and I was not disappointed. To accommodate all 110 of us there were 22 carriages of the train, 500m worth, and the first time it has ever been this long. Our cabin was just lovely, well designed such that there was a little place for everything, and with a beautiful big window to sit at and watch the world go by. We enjoyed a charmingly English afternoon tea before we could resist the observation car no longer.
This car at the very rear of the train is probably the memory I am holding onto the hardest, the feeling of the warm air washing over me while seeing the city landscape transform into a rural view is one I will cherish. Many gin and tonics were drunk here as we wended our way towards the ancient temple ruins in the Muang Sing Historical Park where we were treated to an evening of spectacular entertainment amongst the ruins. The evening began rather late as we had been not only delayed on the train, but by another spectacular rainstorm, and I did feel sorry for all the performers who had clearly spent a great deal of time rehearsing (and indeed for the many scantily clad chaps lining the path to the temple with candles!)
Sleep aboard a moving train was surprisingly comfortable if a little broken, and breakfast in bed was a real treat. Frankly, a cup of tea in bed is one of life’s greatest, if simplest, pleasures in my book. Our morning was spent visiting a mangrove conservation project where we had the opportunity to plant one of our own. I am well versed in planting things, and unconcerned by dirty hands, but a surprising number of people did not share my enthusiasm and I planted for them. I am hopeful that in years to come my mangroves will flourish!
The following day and a half were spent travelling at varying speeds through the remainder of Thailand and into Malaysia. It was fascinating to watch not only the landscape but the infrastructure change as we made progress. I relished the lushness of it all, and was intrigued to see rubber plantations which I spotted by the little cups on the side of each tree.
We were treated to wonderful lunches and dinners on board the train, how the chef and his team produced three and four course meals to such a high standard from their tiny galley is quite beyond me. An evening spent on a beach was a lovely opportunity for a quick paddle before a bbq, fireworks and paper lanterns distracted us from the pleasures of the sand and water.
As I type this I can recall hundreds of minor details from the trip, and while they’re not necessary to share, and I don’t want to elongate this post too much (presuming anyone is still reading!), I do think that one of the benefits of writing is in allowing ourselves the time to enjoy these little reflections, both good and bad. There were moments, while we stood in the observation car sipping gin, when I felt acutely voyeuristic as we waved back at people on the side of the tracks. Their lives were clearly simple beyond measure, or poverty stricken in some cases, and I did wonder what on earth they must think about people like us.
Our third and final night on the train included a visit from a pair of ‘mixologists’ who made me my very first Singapore Sling, a cocktail to enjoy in any city I think! We travelled appreciably faster through this last night and arrived in Singapore the following morning. I know I wasn’t the only one who was flagging a little at this point and I was enormously happy to take the opportunity to have a little nap in our room at the gorgeous Ritz Carlton after a lunch at Tamarind Hill. Restored by sleep and a bathe in the tub overlooking this splendid city from the 26th floor we then enjoyed our final evening atop Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Hotel in the Ce La Vie restaurant and nightclub. I’ve run out of adequate gastronomic adjectives, but this genuinely was a meal to remember – and the view was pretty spectacular too!
Our last day prior to an evening flight was spent together, just M and I, enjoying a brief explore of the city. From the botanic gardens amongst the high rises to the designer shopping malls and the pleasures of Arab Street I loved it all. Like Bangkok and Malaysia, this was just a brief glimpse of the fascinating pleasures that Asia has to offer and my appetite has been well and truly whetted.
Travelling in such luxury is, in honesty, a genuine pleasure. But, it does not detract from the fact that what really made the trip was meeting and getting to know some of the people from M’s world, and in appreciating some time spent as a couple again. Watching M with his peers and colleagues gave me a new respect for his success and I felt hugely proud of him and all he has achieved over the last 20 years or so.
This truly was the trip of a lifetime in many ways and I know just how very lucky I am. Now though, in a return to real life, my wellies are at the door and I have 47 hydrangeas to plant!
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