Out and About in Bangkok

The flight from Sydney to Bangkok went as planned – fortunately our kamikaze Russian minibus driver wasn’t at the controls.  As we learnt afterwards, our flight over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam was around six hours after the Malaysian Airways flight to Beijing went missing in the same area – not a nice thought.  Bangkok airport was bathed in bright smog/haze but the temperature was still a cosy 34o with humidity right up there.

After the rural peace and quiet of New Zealand  the Bangkok experience comes as a bit of shock – noisy, not a little bit smelly, crowded as hell and you take your life in your hands whenever you atempt to cross the road.  The moped riders are the worst and the safest thing is to expect them to attack you from any direction at any time.


Our itinerary (how to squeeze a quart into a pint pot):

IMGP4484Day One.  Covered Market (15,000 stalls, its enormous), Skytrain, River Taxi, Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo.


IMGP4647Day Two.  Jim Thompson’s House, the MBK and Pantip Malls (dodgy software), Wat Pho, sat on the riverbank to get an evening photo of Wat Arun and then walked down past the Flower Market to get a street meal in Chinatown.

DSCN7612Day Three.  Made our way to the central railway station and took the train to Ayutthaya (about 70km north, former capital of Siam until sacked by the Burmese in 1787) and toured the temple ruins by tuk-tuk.  Rode an elephant!  Excellent day only marred slightly by my new lens deciding to fall apart for no particular reason.  The railway system is fascinating  – on the way there we went  by 2nd Class train (they have different classes of train , not carriages) which cost the princely sum of 345 bhat each (around £7), coming back we travelled 3rd Class (no aircon, but with the windows wide open it was fine) at a cost of 20 bhat (40p) each.  Wonderful!

Day Four.  Washout – I succumbed to a case of Bangkok Belly and was laid low for much of the day.  We managed a short shopping expedition around midday and an evening meal in a Japanese restaurant but for much of the day my attention was elsewhere.

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Sydney Stopover

We booked our fights with Thomas Cook and were pretty pleased with the price and the service they provided – except that about a week before we came away we noticed that they’d managed to arrange our flights so that we were due to leave Sydney twenty minutes before we would have arrived.  As a result we had to sacrifice a day in New Zealand and stay overnight in Sydney – at their expense.  They booked us into the same hotel in Darling Harbour that we’d stayed in when we visited Australia a couple of years ago, so at least we knew where we’d be staying and could plan a little bit of exploring for yesterday afternoon.

We mulled over whether to take a boat over to Manly or to catch the bus to Bondi Beach, but in the end decided to join the thousands of  kids (anyone between the ages of 16 and 36) showing off their tans on the golden sands of Bondi.  If anything’s guaranteed to make you feel your age it’s to sit on the beach in the middle of  a sea of suntanned flesh trying to hold your tummy in for a couple of hours.  To add insult to injury, as we were sat there a young guy who was going surfing asked us to keep an eye on his possessions – he said that we looked ‘trustworthy’, which I reckon meant that he thought we were too old to be dishonest!


We booked a shuttle bus from the hotel to the airport this morning.  I think that the driver must have been a tuk-tuk driver in another life – if you’d think that travelling at 500mph at 35,000ft over the ocean in a thin steel tube would be more dangerous than to be driven though Sydney by a suicidal Russian you’d be wrong!




DSCN7381As New Zealand’s largest city Auckland has quite a different feel to it than Christchurch or Wellington, both of which seem to have retained a bit of small town charm about them as they’ve grown.  Not that Auckland is unpleasant, or at least the bits of the city centre that we’ve seen anyway, but the place has a little bit of big city bustle about it that we’ve not experienced elsewhere in New Zealand.  After five weeks of what’s been a very rural experience it feels ever so slightly frenetic., but perhaps that’s just a sign of a busy town and a healthy economy.

IMGP4465That said, you can’t build a city on the edge of the Pacific Ocean without it taking on a maritime character and Auckland has done that very successfully.  We spent a couple of very pleasant hours this afternoon walking through the harbour area and ogling some of the significant nautical hardware moored alongside.  I’ve avoided calling them yachts because these titanic (!) vessels are about as far away from my experience of yachting as you can get.  No doubt a helicopter is an absolutely essential accessory if you own something that’s the size of village and cost rather more than the GNP of a small country – jealous, me, surely not?

This morning we met with Ed Verner , a chum of sons Richard and Thomas, who made the move to Auckland around three years ago and is now prospering here as a professional chef.  It was great to hear how well he and his partner Laura are doing and to hear something about their plans for the future.  Good luck Ed, and thanks for finding the time to meet up.


Heading back towards Auckland

We had a bit of a technical disaster the other evening.  Before we set off on our travels I’d cunningly copied a number of films from DVD onto my ‘tablet’ for viewing during the holiday – among them I’d included all 20 episodes of The Killing – in Danish with English sub-titles.  Anyway, we got as far as Episode 13 to find that for some reason the last eight episodes had been copied without subtitles.  It took about two minutes to realize that our command of Danish is limited to two words – ‘smorgasbord’ and ‘sauna’, neither of which seems to come up too regularly in The Killing. So now we’ll have to wait until we get home to find out whether Troels did the dirty deed, whether Sarah Lund will marry Bengt move to Sweden and live happily ever after, and if Meyer is going to smoke himself to death before the end of the series.

For the last two days we’ve been heading south back towards Auckland.  Tonight is our last night in the van and then we’ve got a couple of nights in a hotel before we fly off to Bangkok with a night’s stopover in Sydney on the way.  Time for reflections then……..

  • New Zealand is a truly fabulous country – virtually everywhere we’ve visited has been absurdly stunning, in fact I can’t think of one part of the country we’ve seen that I wouldn’t be happy to return to, or recommend to others.
  • The North and South Islands have their own characters but the differences are more subtle than you’d expect – the South is probably a tad more spectacular and wild but the North is no less beautiful and perhaps has the edge when it comes to beaches.  The fact of the matter is that it’s not a question of either/or …. if you’re coming all this way, make the time to do both North and South Islands.
    • People talk about New Zealand as being like stepping back into a UK of 20 or 30 years ago but I’m not sure that’s quite right.  Yes, it’s much quieter, less crowded and more relaxed than the UK of 2014 but there’s something else as well.  I can’t recall the UK as ever being quite as ‘chilled’ as most of the Kiwis we’ve met have seemed to be.  I’m sure that it’s not perfect and as a nation they have some social and cultural problems, but the national character and very obvious focus on enjoying and protecting their environment is hugely attractive.
    • ……….and contrary to expectations it has been possible for Denise and I to live in the confines of a campervan for five weeks without coming even remotely close to killing each other!

      Denise in one of her moods after four weeks in the campervan with John
      Denise in one of her moods after four weeks in the campervan with John!

Hokianga Harbour and the Kauri Forests

For most of our time in New Zealand we’ve tended to spend every third or fourth night on commercial campsites and in between we’ve ‘freedom camped’ on sites provided either by the Department of Conservation (DOC) or by the local town or regional authorities.  These vary in providing absolutely no facilities, other than the space in which to park your van or pitch your tent, to well organised campgrounds with toilets and some even provide showers, kitchens, power etc.  Even the commercial sites are inexpensive by European standards, with most charging around $20/adult whilst the DOC and other sites charge around $10, or in some cases are free.  It’s a good system and means that there’s no real need for campers to stop where they’re unwanted or to pull over on the roadside for the night.  One word of advice; if you are going to use the DOC sites be sure to get there in good time as even out of peak season the better ones tend to fill up by gin time.

Sunday night we were on a well-provided DOC site on the edge of the Trounson Kauri forest sitting just to the side of Highway 12 which runs down the west coast of Northland.  Much of Northland, Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula were once covered in mixed forests dominated by the mighty kauri, the world’s second largest tree, but by the early 20th century nearly all had been felled, either for their magnificent wood or to make way for agriculture.


The only two remaining extensive pockets are the Waipoura and Trounson forests which are well worth a visit just to marvel at these enormous trees, the largest of which can live for 2,000 years and reach 50m in height and 20m in girth.  It’s an interesting fact (not a lot of people know this) that it’s now illegal to fell a kauri except in particular circumstances which include culling a diseased or dying tree, or when constructing a ceremonial war canoe – imagine explaining that one to the Cotswold District Tree Protection Officer!


Hokianga Harbour is one of those places that needs to be seen in the sunshine.  Fortunately the clouds parted and the sun broke through just as we arrived, so the view from the café as we tucked into our daily latte and muffin was to die for (we’re easily pleased these days).




Waitangi and Matauri Bay

IMGP4341We all know and understand that Britain (with or without Scotland included) is the centre of the known universe; so we probably shouldn’t find it surprising that key events in British history are taught in New Zealand schools – you know, Kings and Queens, how we beat the French (several times), how we built and lost an empire, that sort of thing.  So how much do we Brits know about New Zealand’s relatively short history?  Not much if my meagre store of knowledge is anything to go by.

Anyway, all that was put right today by our visit to the very beautiful Waitangi Treaty Grounds where we were given an excellent summary of ‘everything you need to know about Kiwi history but were afraid to ask’, followed by a very enjoyable ‘cultural experience’ which included, among other things, half a dozen scary looking Maori boys and girls sticking their tongues out at us and threatening us with clubs and spears.


Not your usual welcome, admittedly, but really well done and very effective.  In point of fact it would probably have been even more effective if it hadn’t coincided with a powerboat race taking place on the Bay of Islands and passing within 400m of where we were stood.  Sadly, when it comes to volume even a Maori Haka can’t compete with forty or fifty 350HP Mercury outboards at full chat and a slack handful of low flying helicopters screaming overhead!

boat and heli

Our drive up the coast from the Bay of Islands took us to the beautiful Matauri Bay where we swam and explored yet another practically deserted, fabulous beach.  Overlooking the bay is the monument to the Rainbow Warrior which, those who remember the 80s will recall, was sunk by the sneaky French Secret Service in Auckland Harbour – need I say more?