A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: antheahanson

Tom yum soup not for children

too hot to handle

sunny 33 °C

“Tom yum soup not for children” our guide said to us as she put down a huge bowl of noodle soup in front of me. We were sitting in a floating restaurant in Phang nga bay. Now, my Mum always told me to eat up what was on your plate so with a happy smile I set about eating the soup, a few minutes later my eyes streaming my children ask “whats a matter mummy?” “Spicy “ I hiss through a large gulp of water and a handy napkin. I should know by now when it comes to spicy food I am not much more adventurous than my children. “Tom yum noodles definitely not for children” I agree with my guide.

My children are the most fussy eaters in the world...no really! I always said I wouldn't be one of those parents who pandered to their children's fussyness, I was going to eat what I wanted and if they didn't want to starve they would do the same. But they have turned out to be as un moving as stone and I have been beaten into submission, spicy foods are now only on the menu on the rare occasion Dave and I get a take away.

Bearing this in mind I was worried about how they would get on in Thailand where fish fingers and pasta and cheese are defintely not on the menu. Pre occupied with thinking about their fussiness I hadn't even considered the possibility that it might be me that was fussy. So what did we eat? The answer ...alot of rice pancakes.

For the first week we survived fairly well on pancakes, eggs and lots and lots of fruit. Luckily in the towns there are fruit vendors everywhere but in the countryside it is trickier. You need a bit of local knowledge to find any food at all, In the second week we were due to head to a homestay where such luxurys as fussyness would not be possible. It was with a deep nervousness that I met the lady from Andaman Discoveries [an organisation who try to promote community based tourism and volunteers].She whisked us off to the local market for breakfast. With trepidation I watched Finn and Daniels faces when presented with parcels of sticky rice wrapped in leaves, willing them, please don't do or say anything rude. On the table there was also an assortment of donught like shapes and some fruit which I had stupidly mistaken for new potatoes. Inside the fruit is white. I had wondered why everyone on the train was carrying new potatoes (more edgit points for me). I was heartened to find that the kids had a really good attempt at eating what was put infront of them even Finn who has a habit of saying exactly what he thinks very loudly.

Finns habit of saying things loudly has caused us quite a lot of embarrasement for example his blow by blow account of how one wipes your bottom after toileting in Thailand. I'm sure I don't need to go into as great detail for you the reader as he did when staying at our homestay. Unfortuately the toilet was right next to the kitchen where our hostess was squatting next to the burner preparing tea, fortunately they spoke no English although i'm sure they got the gist! I felt great empathy with my sister who has just regailed us with her hilarious stories of trying to go to the toilet wearing an abaya in Saudi Arabia, the whole process is fraught with hazards to the uninitiated.

During our homestay food was a constant presence Nat our translattor (yes we had our own translattor how cool is that?) she was keen that we should try new things and not wanting to dissappoint we tried our best. As things have been a bit crazy the last few weeks I must admit that in addition to still not having bought a map I also hadn't re read the itinery for our homestay. If I had I would have noticed that on day one it said 'go fishing to catch your tea', fine, great ...except I am not the worlds greatest fan of fish and I hate to kill something just for the sake of it. Oh how I wished Dave was there he loves fish and would have eaten all of the flappy cute things with big goggly eyes. Luckily for me we didn't catch a great lot, the biggest one was apparently poisonous. The method we used to catch these cute little nemos was a drag net which two people hold with their hands and toes then wade in to shoulder height dragging the net back to the shore, to add to the amusement of my children I was also fully clothed as the village is muslim, this creates 'drag' in more ways than one. Having dropped the net off my toes a number of time due to complete ineptness I was amazed how many fish, crabs and other things lived (well had done) really near to the shore. Sleast sorry fishes. At least nothing was wasted as the rest went into fertilizer.

The village used to be spread along the edge of this beautiful beach along with a resort at the end but the lot was wiped out in the 1994 Tsuami. Having lost a number of their population the villagers are not keen for it to happen again and have moved the village about a kilometre back from the shore. There are still a few reminders of that fateful day with the twisted metal and concrete of the old resort and the frame of the old school in seemingly such an idyllic spot. Unfortunately there were a few children in the school that day 10 years ago practicing for a Christmas/ New year show. The new school is thankfully situated on a hill. When we visited the kids were all busy on brand new tablets (the electronic kind not drugs although both result in a wonderful silence!) A rather forward thinking government are trying to provide every school child in Thailand with a tablet . Can you imagine our government being able to do that?

We are now near the end of our travels. As a treat for our last few days we are in a resort in a place called Khao lak. I am writing this sitting by a cool blue swimming pool, palm trees and the Andaman sea in the background. It sounds idyllic, it is, but strangely it isn't how I would normally choose to spend my holidays. I could be anywhere in the world There are chips and pizza on the menu and people wander around scantily clad. Although still far removed from the debauchery of places like Phuket or the full moon parties on some of the islands it is not the Thailand that I came to see, however on my 6th day in this particular slice of paradise I think I might just be getting used to it, oh well it's a shame I have to leave tomorrow.
see you soon

See you soon

Posted by antheahanson 08:19 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Temporarily mis located

travels without a map

sunny 32 °C

Well what a plonker! I love maps, I positively drool over them so why the hell didn't I buy a map of Thailand? I'm a week into my Thailand trip and I still haven't managed to buy one! Where am I now? Well I could vaguely tell you I'm in Khao Sok a national park I think about half way between the west and east coast, but if you had asked me a week ago I would have been clueless.

Life has been somewhat hectic, in a whiny children/no time to do research kind of way. Once the kids are asleep I tend to fall into a horizontal position and stay there until the morning. About 9 days ago the three of us left Bangkok, yes just three of us, those of you that know us well will know by now that Dave is back in England.

The interesting thing about travelling with kids which is intensified when you are on your own is that you can't just nip anywhere (like to buy a map). Any nipping one does do, for example to the incredibly lush air conditioned very western shopping centre in Bangkok (which incidentally didn't have a map) any such nipping can quite easily turn into a whole days outing.

So it was that a week ago I ended up in the wrong city, yes I know what a plonker. Chiang Mai sounds like Chaing Rai a lovely Sardinian couple commented soothingly when I realised my mistake. What a complete edjit, Thing is without kids I would have just hopped on a bus for another 5 hours to rectify the mistake. However the kids were about to mutiny. They enjoyed the overnight on the train but not the several hours delay the following day and I must say I was inclined to agree. We had planned to stay with the Akha hill tribe up in the mountains, infact a truck was waiting to take us but in a town 5 hours north. Oh well!

Resigned to staying in Chiang Mai I set about about trying to haggle with a Songathew driver (like a shared pick up truck taxi), boy these guys are tough. Exhausted we finally landed right in the centre of town. Not willing to shop around I walked into the first guest house I found and result, a fantastic room right opposite a temple. Now those of you who know Chiang Mai will know that finding a room opposite a temple is actually no big deal, the place is heaving in them, 300 to be exact.

Later that evening we went for a wander and every tourist we saw had a map of Chiang Mai but not me. Where did they get these maps? ...I accosted these bewildered tourists please tell me where you got your map? They all answered “our guest houses.” Mine must be the only guest house in Chiang mai with no map and no information what so ever. I had managed to find myself an entirely Thai place to stay. Away from the backpacker crowd. Great for the Authentic experience but rubbish if you actually want to play tourists, or have an English conversation with a grown up.

While in Chiang Mai we did some pretty cool things (without a map) like playing with tigers, visiting a rescue centre for elephants and of course visiting temples (I think we managed to clock up 14).We did however have to walk back all the way from one side of the town to the other from one such excursion, in searing heat and rush hour and run the gauntlet with the traffic,because the Songathews wouldn't pick us up in rush hour. Luckily we met a very nice Irish Lady with a map and managed to navigate our way. Now we know the place so well we don't need a map.

Travelling with children is now definitely taking it's toll especially with Dave not being here. The adult moments are few and far between and I pounce on any English speakers especially if they have kids, Tempers are a bit frayed and I look wistfully at the twenty somethings who have just come back from trekking or some other wonderful experience that involved more than an hour drive. I remind myself that I did that in my twenties and that this is a completely different experience. As I write this I am sitting shading from the mid day heat as the children play with a little Thai 3 year old who has taken a liking to Daniel, rather bizarrely there is Dora the Explorer on in the background and wind chimes tinkling. I am heartened to see that small Thai children behave just as cheekily as my two.

After another two overnight train journeys and a minibus we are happy to be still for a moment. But in two days time I must again embark on my journey still without a map and still clueless, wish me luck.

Posted by antheahanson 06:46 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

A tale of three cities

a converts guide to New Zealands cities

all seasons in one day

I would say I was a country bumpkin. I grew up in the country, not quite the sticks but we did get cut off in the snow and collect milk from the local farm. After a brief dabble in the big smoke in my twenties I knew that, cities really were not for me and purposely sought out a future in the countryside. As the years have gone on I feel more and more out of place in cities, so imagine my suprise when after 3 months in the remoteness that is New Zealand I find myself yearning for people, noise and streets that buzz after 9pm.

I thought I would love the miles of space that New Zealand offered. The miles without people. The getting away from it all feeling. But instead I have craved human company, towns with people and even ,yes, dare I say it cars!
The roads in new Zealand are widely empty, the main traffic seeming to be tourists. When we were in the West Coast staying in Teapot Cottage we were at first disappointed to find that we were next to the only main road. Most of the day it was quiet but everyday like clockwork from about 9 to 10 and 5 to 6 it is a constant stream of rental camper vans, all heading south... rush hour in the west country ! A couple of months later when leaving our friends Bach next to a beach in remote Hawkes bay, we took a wrong turn and ended up driving an hour along gravel roads until we at last found a main road.
If you like space and getting away from people New Zealand is for you. In North Island there is a lot of bush, and I mean a lot. This is so dense it is actually quite hard to get into, this is a good job because people have been known to dip into the bush to relieve themselves, then are never seen again! Talking of bush last week we 'popped' in on a friend who is running an outdoor centre under the shadow of Tongararo. When we got there we asked ourselves why is there an outdoor centre here? All we could see was miles upon miles of bush. She explained that under that bush were increadible gorges, rivers, and the thing that most surprised me, caves. Of course you do have to know where to look!

Auckland is New Zealands biggest city, although not its capital. Around half of the population of New Zealand live in Auckland although to be honest that's not a lot. I have been amazed by its diversity and beauty. I have never before stayed in a city where you can camp next to the beach (Takapuna) then wander into the hub ub. Everything feels really close and very green. Aucklanders have some great ideas, such as in the centre it has a bus service that is almost idiot proof with the buses being the same colour as the route on your map and only 50c (about 25p). Almost everywhere you go in Auckland you can see the sky tower which is great as along with the sea you are unlikely to get lost. If you do get lost there are these cool information people zipping around on those upright wheely things.

Wellington is the capital, it is the first city in New Zealand I properly visited. The boys and I took a train into the centre from the outskirts which were very hilly, green and full of characterful weather boarded houses. I was completely gobsmacked to find the ticket lady on the train was really friendly I'm sorry Britain but I haven't come across that before. Infact she was positively cheerful greeting everyone as if they were old friends (maybe they were). I did have a slight mis location problem when we got off the train but on asking a friendly passerby where the sea was (much to my kids embarrassment )I was soon off in the right direction. Cities by the sea are useful like that. I was impressed with Wellington, it's water front is lovely (great playground) and Te Papa which is a museum does have a ridiculously large squid (size of a large car) which shouldn't be missed. On the downside it does seem to be a tad windy, not great for immaculate hairdos.
The third city we visited is Christchurch. People advised us not to bother going here. There is nothing left they said. I'm glad I ignored them. Post earthquake Christchurch is moving, yet hopeful. The people seem to have an incredible optimism, seeing the devastation as an opportunity to rebuild bigger better and of course earthquake proof.

Impressions of Christchurch
Twisting metal
Rubble soup
Buildings stranded
Hubub gone
Replaced by a silent epitaph of space

Nature mocks man
Man fights back
Embracing opportunity
Optimism persists
A vision of cultural excellence


For now
The dust billows in silence
Tram lines disappear
Cracks ominously remain
and punts drift along a green avenue oblivious of the chaos around them.

So three cities later, I am now a convert, I have decided I like cities. Next stop Bangkok.

Posted by antheahanson 00:40 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Dreaming of a white Christmas

Snow balls in summer time

all seasons in one day 0 °C

'For the umpteenth time Daniel we are not going to have snow at Christmas ,it's summer here!'
Daniel has been struggling with the concept that Christmas can occur if it isn't winter. His levels of anxiety leading up to Christmas grew and grew with concerns over Father Christmas finding us and of course if he did find us would he have anything we could actually take home with us?

As it happened his concerns were unfounded. Father Christmas did incredibly well, particularly as he only had one day on the job. Christmas morning came about and the sun beat heavily down on the driftwood Christmas tree we had left hanging on the veranda. The stocking which had been carefully carried out from England was bulging on our friends wood burner (not lit), and all the usual Christmas festivities were had ,albeit without the rousing verses of the 12 days of Christmas from our family. It was hot and it was nice but as soon as it was over it was back to the increasingly weary business of travelling. We are here to have fun and we blooming well will even if it kills us!

More than half way through our travels and moving on is becoming harder. The comfort of staying in our friends house for a week was hard to leave behind. This travel lethargy was increased with the knowledge that from now on the whole of New Zealand was on it's holidays so no more empty campsites or just turning up and hoping for the best. We packed our stuff up and tried to decide where to go next.

On the day of departure we still hadn't decided where to go. I had found a fantastic looking tramp in the Mount Cook area which involved a bit of an alpine route and a stay in a hut, perfect for Daniels first big mountain experience but one look at the weather forecast and we nearly unpacked again. After lots of umming we decided to head that way anyhow and hoped for the best.

Three hours later and boy we were pleased we had. Mount Cook loomed at the end of the valley like a beautiful giant. I have been to many mountainous places in the world with mountains much bigger than Mount Cook but there is something about the way this mountain stretches right up from the valley floor with the lake infront of it and glaciers around it which surpasses much that I have seen. As we arrived the mountains were clear and it was a glorious evening it was easy to forget the horrendous forecast for the next day.

On waking the next day it was still clear but you could see the weather coming in from the west. The Mueller hut is on a first come first served basis which is why it wasn't already booked up, so were down at the DOC office by 7.30 eating our breakfast on it's doorstep ready to sign up. However after much deliberating and searching every forecast I could find I broke the news to Daniel that we couldn't stay in the hut as it would be too risky waiting until Sunday to come down, instead we would go for Plan B walking up to Sealy tarns (the half way point) and back in a day.
With much lighter rucksacks we set off. Stunning landscape met us every inch of the way. Starting in fields of lupins (considered to be weeds) then trudging slowly up 1810 steps to Sealy tarns. These steps were quite a feat to build I am sure, but by the time we got there we hated steps. For Daniel this was the biggest walking challenge of his life. In terms of distance it is nothing but in height gain it was about 1000 metres. When we got to Sealy tarns we could see the snow line enticingly just above us and we could also see that it was the end of the blasted steps. Luckily Daniel was easily bribable and with just the promise of an ice cream I got him to carry on. From here on the path was unmade and as we got higher we crossed several snow patches. This actually made it much more fun but also more serious if the weather deteriorated. Four and a half hours after leaving the car park we made it to the ridge. Fantastic! I was very proud of my boy and it opened up all manner or Mother/Son outings in the future. This route was an amazing first alpine tramp for Daniel as in a short time he had seen glaciers, heard seracs collapsing, seen the very unusual sight of a glacier ending in a lake with icebergs floating on it and looked far below to the valley he had climbed up from. It was tempting to carry on another half an hour to the hut just out of curiosity, but the wind had increased and the weather was about to hit us so reluctantly we started the long journey down. Just as we hit the bottom step the heavens opened and by the time we had walked back to the village we were soaked though but happy. From that point on rain fell, thunder bellowed around the mountains and on our drive out we got hit by massive hail, so, sorry to have missed you Mueller hut but we definitely made the right decision at at least we got to throw snow balls at Christmas time.

Posted by antheahanson 02:40 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains children snow Comments (2)

Time travel on the West Coast

For Janet and other history buffs

rain 16 °C

I'm sitting watching Dave light the fire under a bath! The bath has a chimney, even stranger! This novel washing apparatus is set in a garden filled with foxgloves and rather bizarrely teapots. A thick mist pours off the mountains to our right and meets the equally thick sea mist drifting lazily off the sea. An occasional car or truck thunders its way past on it's journey up the West Coast bringing us back to modern day reality. Where are we? In a little Bach called Teapot cottage just North of Hari Hari.

The West Coast of South Island is a wild place, a thin stretch of flat land interrupts the journey between sea and mountain. Along this stretch of land lives the bulk of the population of Westland although in saying this that doesn't amount to a lot. Once upon a time this land held promises of great things. People flooded here from far afield. Like the story of Stan Stephens who immigrated here in 1921 along with his 6 brothers and sisters. The reason...GOLD! In those day immigration from Britain involved an eight week voyage by sea followed by a horse drawn coach over the then precarious Arthur pass, followed by train and finally coach and horses to his final destination Waiuta. You would think after such a journey they would be grumbling, but they were ecstatic to arrive in such a place, covered in snow and with such a friendly welcome. Immigrants like Stan's dad were welcomed in New Zealand, they had the skills needed from there lives in the tin mines of Cornwall. It reminds me again perhaps why the Kiwi's are often seems so tough, they came from pretty tough stock.
On the way here we stopped off at an 'attraction' called Shanty town. I was fully prepared for some glitzy americanised theme park with very little to actually see but lots of extras to pay for. Shanty town was nothing like that. We spent about 5 hours there and could easily have spent longer. It was a recreation of a gold town and mine and was fascinating and even better, empty. All along the West Coast there are reminders that once this industry was thriving, towns were built on it, the logging industry thrived on it, with the need for timber in shafts and tunnels and of course there were all the things needed to keep all the miners and loggers fed, watered and entertained. Then almost within a couple of decades the whole industry folded. When mine's like Stan's closed towns became ghost towns almost overnight, people moved away and much of the land reverted to bush. We haven't succumbed yet to the activity of gold panning yet, but I must admit my heart does miss a beat when you spot something shiny glistening in the bottom of the river bed.

So back to teapot cottage. While my children soak in the steaming water of the outdoor bath I shall tell you a little about this little gem. The two bed roomed yellow weather boarded little cottage is like stepping back in time, our modern day backpack and laptop stand out like a sore thumb against a backdrop of mainly 50's furniture and nick nicks. In the corner a record player blasts out tunes such as the Seekers and Alan Parsons. The kids are fed up with us saying 'we remember this' as we dig out melamine beakers and dance to the Wombles (surprisingly good!) the fun doesn't stop there. With old suitcases full of clothes, and drawers full of 60's jewelry, glasses and curlers our time travelling experience is complete. Thanks Dan and Kath oh and the fishing was great too!

By the way just a random fact to do with shiny things, did you know glow worms get light envy if you take a torch into a cave?

Posted by antheahanson 02:03 Archived in New Zealand Tagged island south Comments (0)

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