Good morning, Vietnam

We're hitting the road, or in this case the air, in the wee hours of tomorrow morning and are Vietnam bound. We're flying from Bangkok to Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh city as we should probably get used to calling it. Having come back to Bangkok after the few days in Chiang Mai, we were faced with the decision of where to head to next. After a few days of proscrastination, we decided not to cycle through Laos or Cambodia (we're heeding advice to avoid malarial regions at the moment, but more of that anon). It was also considerably cheaper to fly direct to Saigon, as Air Asia - the Ryanair of the southeast Asian skies - flies there from Bangkok, but not to Siem Reap in Cambodia, where we'd planned on travelling to to spend a few days exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat. We've also flown with Air Asia in the past and found them surprisingly bike friendly. We still plan to take in Angkor Wat at some stage in our travels. Perhaps we'll travel there from Vietnam as part of a visa run when our visas run out in a month.

We had yet another hair-raising cycle through the streets of Bangkok this afternoon, having picked up our now gleaming and well tuned bikes from the bike shop. We were happy to be reacquainted with them though. I then spent an hour or so bagging them up for the plane tomorrow, which seemed a pity as they were so clean and shiny!

We'll miss Thailand, we've had a magical two months here, but are very excited about Vietnam.... spending a few weeks volunteering in an orphanage, having a base (we're planning to rent an apartment) in Saigon and therefore our very own kitchen (!) for a while, cycling along the cycle tourers' mecca of Highway 1 from Saigon to Hanoi and, of course, hitting the beach again!

A new month, a new country. Good morning, Vietnam!


Happy Birthday Luca!

To our dearest Luca,

Today you turned three. In Bangkok. It was a bit different from your other (two) birthdays when you've had parties with your grandparents, godparents, cousins, aunties and uncles and friends all there to celebrate with you as you've blown out the candles on your (homemade) cake. But we all had a really nice day.
You opened your pressies from us over breakfast. You were delighted with them. And we felt humbled by your excitement. Then we went to see your first film in the cinema, Kung Fu Panda 2, which was preceded by the Thai National Anthem and a film about King Bhumibol Adulyadej for which we all stood. And in answer to your question - no, that doesn't happen in real life (i.e. talking, kung fu fighting pandas) but the film's message is sound - be good, be true and believe in yourself. We had a lovely lunch out after the cinema and then went to the playground nearby where you said that you had "really great fun". Then we came back to our hotel room for Skype calls to family and friends at home. And after that we had some birthday cake and candles. Sorry about only having two candles. You see, your Dad went to the local 7-Eleven to get candles, but inadvertently picked up a box of joss sticks with two candles on the lid of the box mistaking them for a box of candles. Maybe that kind of thing wouldn't have happened if we'd been doing our usual thing at home but these are the things memories and stories are made of. To add to your treasure trove of such from the past year.

You've grown up so much in the last twelve months, in so many ways and it's been our privilege and pleasure to have been with you to witness first hand every moment of it. You've seen and done so much. Your auld pair have, literally, pulled you across Europe and South East Asia (well your Dad did in your trailer). And you've made us so very proud of the versatile, adaptable, loving, adventurous and happy boy you've been throughout it all. You have had your moments, of course, as all toddlers do but when we've had trying times, where it's been just us three pitted against (whichever part of) the world we were in for whatever reason, you've always given 110%. Without fail. You've been good and true and believed in yourself. And in us. Just like any good Kung Fu warrior.

We adore you.

Your Mama and Dada.

A big Thank You to everyone who sent Luca birthday wishes and who Skyped for his birthday. It really meant a lot to all of us.


“I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom for me and you. And I think to myself, What a wonderful world”....

I read the words of that song which I love, very appropriately, sitting on the banks of the Mae Ping River in Chiang Mai in the garden of the most divine teak old world Chinese shop house while tucking into a very more-ish, moist and sumptuous orange cake. I had actually thought up to that point that life in Chiang Mai just couldn't get any better.

We had checked into our bijoux and chic boutique guest house (at €17.00 per day inclusive of a tasty and hearty breakfast served by helpful and friendly staff), chilled for a while in its frangipani filled courtyard and then explored the wat, or Buddhist temple, filled alleyways midst which the guesthouse was situated. The temple's tingling chimes and beautifully bright orange robed monks the only movement in what seemed to me to be a dream. Our meanderings, to include a couple of stops at old colonial style tea houses which beckoned, led us eventually to the flower markets where two of my favourite flowers, orchids and birds of paradise, simply stole the show. As I said – I really did think that life couldn't get much better.

And then, to top it all off, we found “Regina's”. It's a fantas-teak (!) antique shop/ cafe/ restaurant/ guesthouse just across the river from the flower market (on Chaoenrat Road Watkate A.Muang). You enter a place where it seems time, on the antique clocks, froze over one hundred years ago but for the spinning of the fans and the crooning of Edith Piaf and Sinatra. I just fell in love with it instantly. We all happily whiled away several hours there. Luca chased the many butterflies which flitted through the garden. Phil photographed the procession of monks as they filed past on the bridge nearby while enjoying his delicious Pad Thai. And moi? Well –  I tucked into my slice of cake and, to be honest, dreamt of staying there indefinitely (they do monthly room rentals at 12,00 baht or €270) to write. Something. Anything. Just to make enough money to pay for the room, to fill said room daily with fresh blooms from the flower market and eat tasty Thai staples (and delicious cake of course). I actually think that a novel would write itself there. The words would simply be whispered to you from the garden's trees. And, in the unlikely event that the trees didn't talk to you and you found yourself with writer's block, you could always pop into the nearby “Writer's Club and Wine Bar”, run by an ex-foreign correspondent where Chiang Mai's many reporters and writers hang out to get some unblocking tips whilst enjoying a tipple.

Anyway the front page of Regina's Menu was where I read Louis Armstrong's lyrics and where I, once again on this trip, felt it really is a wonderful world. If you don't hear from us again then you'll know where to find us - the magnum opus in progress. I wish! Otherwise we'll be taking an overnight train on Thursday (we treated ourselves to 1st class this time!) back to Bangkok where we'll all celebrate darling Luca's third birthday on Sunday. From there we'll head then on to Saigon via Cambodia – Siem Reap (for Angkor Wat) and Phnom Penh..... So do keep following to see where we end up.

" Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world " 


The 12.56 to Bangkok

The 12.56 train to Bangkok pulled in to Phetchaburi at 13.50. Under an hour late, not too bad by Thai railway standards, or so we gathered by the total lack of impatience amongst the waiting throngs. And throngs they certainly were. The platform was packed, as were the carriages of the train when it eventually arrived. Getting a train with bikes, bags, Chariot trailer and toddler can be an experience and not always a good one. And so it was with some trepidation that we waited, interminably it seemed, for the non-express to Bangkok – express trains don't have cargo compartments, so can't take bikes. When it finally arrived, we had mere moments to get our gear and selves on board.... they do have a timetable to stick to afterall! However, it turned out to be plenty of time, as all of the cargo carriage staff, and some platform loiterers, happily pitched in and lent us a hand. All under the watchful eye of a curious Buddhist monk. When all of the stuff was safely loaded and stowed, we turned to make our way down the platform to the now even more crowded carriages, where it was standing room only. Luckily, the cargo handlers again came to our rescue and ushered us into the staff compartment, the last carriage on the train, a bright, breezy carriage with comfortable benches and constant entertainment in the form of the comings and goings of the numerous vendors. It was a lovely train journey and a great way to enter Bangkok.

The Bangkok non-express stops in Bangkok Noi station, as opposed to the main central station, which we didn't think was too much of an issue until we set off on the 18km cycle to our hotel. It was 6pm, rush hour traffic and beginning to get dark. We got there in the end though, having pedalled through alleyways, beside canals, over bridges and along 8 lane highways. It was not an enjoyable cycle! Well, Luca enjoyed it, as he spent it reclining in his bike seat, sucking a lollipop and waving to the crowds of moped drivers.


There is a downside to cycling in sunny climes; it can play havoc with your hair. After a few weeks on two wheels through France my hair turned a kind of orange colour which necessitated an emergency visit to a hairdresser in Bescancon before we headed to my sister in law's wedding in Italy. Organising a coiffure there, with my command of the native tongue, was a breeze. But when the need arose again a couple of months later in Budapest the interaction between the hairdresser and I reminded me of the Portugese girl and Colin Firth in “Love Actually” with lots of gesticulating and smiling between us as I tried to convey, without any Hungarian, how I wanted my hair done. All I could do was smile some more as I awaited the outcome. Silently hoping that I wouldn't end up looking like Medussa. It all turned out okay in the end. The colour was a bit darker than I would have normally gone but, overall, it really wasn't bad. After several weeks under the blistering heat of Malaysia and Thailand and the strange appearance of some alien white strands (the oddest thing – I've no idea what they were - especially considering both Phil and I are Benjamin Button parents who are only growing younger according to Luca – will explain that one further anon) my hair was once again in dire need of some TLC . Unable to continue caching my increasingly straw like locks under turbans or bandanas anymore, I took advantage of a monsoon marooned afternoon in Chumpon when Phil was attending to the blog and Luca snoozed to find a hairdresser. This time I went prepared. I Google translated “I would like to have my hair coloured chestnut brown” from English into Thai, copied and pasted the translation and texted it to myself. Despite the 30 mins or so of trepidation as I waited for the colour to “take”, my text technique worked a treat and my hair turned out as requested. A trim was thrown in too – all for the equivalent of 500 baht or €11.00. And those alien white beings were banished. Isn't the internet just a wondrous thing? Just to explain the Benjamin Button reference we often talk to Luca about what he can do when he is older or “when he is a man” that he isn't allowed do now. You know things like drinking vodka and 7-Up. :) Anyway he, in turn, has taken to telling both Phil and I how he will look after us when I am a little girl and Phil a little boy. He will carry me and he will bring Phil on his bike seat. So sweet.

The monsoon weather worsening and time running (out) on our Thai Visa's we made the decision to get ourselves up to Bangkok post haste by combining cycling with rail travel. And so it was that my chestnut tresses and I, Luca, Phil and our bikes boarded the cargo train at 8pm in Chumpon bound for Hua Hin. The lateness of the hour wasn't ideal but it was the only train we could take with our bikes. The five hour train journey which ensued was possibly one of the most uncomfortable but exhilirating ones I have ever had. The Orient Express it was not but it was a unique oriental experience. The train was teeming, literally teeming with people of all ages; sitting, standing and lying down on every precious inch of space. We were, all three, squeezed onto the end of a tiny bench seat which we shared with four others and were stared at, relentlessly, but good humouredly for the whole journey. Luca ended up lying across our knees and, eventually, managed to sleep despite the din. Food and drink vendors boarded at stations along the way and fought their way thought the crowded carriages literally singing their wares. Some of the vendors stopped to laugh and to point “farang”, or foreigner, at us but again it really was all meant kindly. We think? We were openly discussed. In Thai. To the amusement of all of the passengers. All you could do was smile. And we did. The disembarkation of the train was not quite so pleasant an experience. Our bikes were in the cargo carriage about eleven long carriages away and we came upon our non-terminus station suddenly. We had to jump off and run down the eleven carriages to get to them and our gear once the train stopped. But no sooner had we jumped off than the train started moving again. Our bikes on it. In the end it all worked out as the train did, eventually, halt again but with barely enough time to unload our bikes and gear in the dark and in between train tracks with another train, travelling from the other direction, screeching to a halt alongside. We knew we'd been arriving at quite an ungodly hour in Hua Hin so we had pre-booked a hotel close to the train station which had a 24 hour reception to where we all made our way and slept soundly. Hua Hin is a nice seaside town and we enjoyed some beachside cycling there exploring the next day. But there was a “hostess bar” side to it too which revealed itself when darkness fell and we went in search of somewhere to eat. We had never really come across that side of Thailand before in our travels here, actually, and it was evident again as we cycled on the next day to Cha-am. Well, at least I think it was. We cycled by a building signposted “Laplage” with posters of beautiful and scantily clad women outside which was either a place named after a kind of misspelling (or rather conjoining) of the French for “the beach” or, well, a pun on something else entirely if you get my drift. Hmmmmm.

We arrived in Cha-am on Friday evening literally just before the cloud filled sky lit up and the heavens opened. Again we had booked our night's accommodation ahead of time as we'd heard that this town was a very popular weekend destination with Thais. We were able to enjoy the sight of the natives arriving in their droves for the weekend laden down with boxes of their favourite tipple, whiskey, from the dry vantage point of our balcony. The three of us had an early and quiet night and set off on our bikes for Phetchaburi after breakfast while whiskey drinking was still being enjoyed by the revellers. We set off at great speed and made great progress on the Highway, determined to beat the bad weather which threatened but were feeling suddenly felled after 25 kilometres and in need of a cold water or soft drink and agreed to stop at the next place we saw. Which was, as it turned out when we went inside, a karaoke bar where the owner and his pals were, well, drinking whiskey. Again we were discussed at length but good humouredly by the locals who tried to get Luca to do some karaoke. It was all quite odd but in a good way. We made good time for the remainder of the journey, again on the Highway, and reached our hotel in Phetchaburi within seconds of the heavens opening. We'd read that Petchaburi promised a taste of Old Siam. And we were impressed by the vast number of Wat's, or temples, there when we explored it yesterday afternoon and evening. But also by the vast population of stray, wild dogs. My dog Dazer proved to be as handy when we were exploring on two legs as well as on two wheels here. It doesn't hurt the dogs at all it just emits a shrill sound which we can't hear but dogs can and it tends to stop dogs who begin to chase you in their tracks. We got another taste of Old Siam today at Khao Wang, or Palace Hill, which we took the cable car up to and where we explored King Mongkut's palace. Along with the Thai tourists and lots of cheeky monkeys who were fearless in swiping food and drinks from people. Thankfully, unlike the dogs roaming Phetchaburi, the monkeys left us alone. We were especially grateful since the signage “For the Tourists” as you board the cable cars notified us that if we had “accident with the monkeys.. the cadle (sic) car cannot invoke to you”.

We're off to Bangkok tomorrow on a lunchtime train. Cycling into Bangkok is supposed to be suicidal. We're looking forward to Bangkok but I keep hearing that song from the 80's ringing in my ears “A night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble...”. You know the one? Am excited, but also bracing myself for the madness.


Thailand's Southwestern Monsoon has really kicked in and we've been rained in for the last few days. Having had a few tough but enjoyable days cycling from Phuket up the western coast, we had to turn back north of Khao Lak and seek shelter in the nearest hostelery, as the rain was bucketing down and storm winds were felling trees and blowing debris all around us. Not pleasant to cycle in!

It suited us to stay put for a day or two anyway, as Linda was busy writing an article for the Travel supplement of the Irish Times, no less (more on that to follow). As the monsoon rains were due to last for the foreseeable future we decided it would be advisable to vacate the southwest coast and hightail it to the east coast. We have done so and are currently in Chumpon, to which we arrived by bus (the bicycles and gear stowed in the luggage compartments beneath) and in which we were met by yet more rain! Hopefully, the rain on this coast won't last too long though.

We spent this morning pottering through a fascinating local market, with the most remarkable smells and sights. We had absolutely no idea what much of the stuff was, but it sure was going down well with the local shoppers, pigs' heads included.

Chumpon serves as a jumping off point to the nearby island of Ko Tao, a small island north of its better known neighbours Ko Pha-Ngan and Ko Samui. We don't have too much interest in visiting these, they don't seem to be the most family and toddler friendly of the Thai islands. Ko Tao is supposed to be a quieter, more peaceful option. However, if the rains and storms last, and they appear to defy forecasting, a small island in the South China Sea may not be a pleasant place to be. Time is also ticking.... our Thai visas run out at the beginning of June and we have made plans to volunteer for Allambie orphanage in Ho Chi Minh city for a few weeks at some stage in June. So, decisions, decisions! If we don't go to Ko Tao, we'll start cycling north up the east coast tomorrow, ultimately heading toward Bangkok. We'll have plenty of beach lazing opportunities en route, so we won't start feeling too sorry for ourselves yet!


We arrived in Phuket Town late in the evening where we had planned to only spend one night. We  expected very little of it from what we had heard of Phuket generally. As we cycled through the dusky streets I spotted an inviting looking little cafe/ restaurant which also advertised rooms. Admittedly I was drawn in by their library which reminded me of our own bookshelves back in what had been home in Killiney, Dublin. I went to check it out and was disappointed when the exceptionally friendly man there told me that their guest rooms weren't open yet. He asked what our budget was and offered to help in recommending a place to stay. All the while my eyes were drawn, longingly, to the tasteful decor and, yes, the book shelves. He said that the hotel next door was both very reasonable and was also a little bit of Phuket Town history as the ground floor doubled as both a lobby and a museum of "Old Phuket Town". It had secure parking which sealed the deal; both we and our bikes were very happy to stay there. We'd planned to sneak a peek at "Glasnost" that evening, my curiosity having been piqued once I read about it. It has the unusual moniker of 'Law and Notary Public Bar': a bar which doubles as a law office as the owner is a practising lawyer and which, according to "The Lonely Planet" has "about as laid-back and intimate a setting as you could find in which spontaneous jazz jam sessions are the norm". But in the end  - we were tired, as was Luca -  and, so, we were just delighted to go to the restaurant/ cafe I'd been to earlier which was mere steps from our hotel. "The Gallery Cafe". We, of course, found ourselves sitting right beside the book shelves which had an amazing mix of Old-ey World-ey English books - mainly antique and lifestyle books. We even found a book there penned by our dear friend Ronan's esteemed Dad, Dr. Harbison, on Irish Art and Architecture! I would always "go Thai" in Thailand but I couldn't resist the western fare of seabass, pumpkin and my much missed mashed potato which was DELICIOUS. Even Luca said afterwards, completely unprompted "I enjoyed that" (he'd had spaghetti bolognese).

We went back for a yummy breakfast the next morning which I enjoyed whilst digesting a book on Thailand's Boutique Hotels. Which was a bit like perusing the menu of the best French patisserie while on the Atkins diet. We just can't afford such hotels on this trip so I wish I hadn't seen them. (Yeah, yeah I know - your hearts are bleeding for "poor us" swanning around Asia :) ).  And so we left Phuket Town after a lovely evening and morning and decided to head on to check out the much lauded Phuket beaches - just for a night or two to rest our weary legs.

We'd read that Patong Beach was a party haven to which tourists flocked and so we opted for the family friendly Kamala Beach. We regretted our choice several times on the cycle there as as we struggled over the MANY and tough headland hills but were rewarded by finding a great and reasonable apartment - not quite beachfront but very close to the beach. Phil went to source somewhere to stay and when he came back to report said: "There's something about this reminds me of somewhere but I just don't know where?". The instant I walked in I knew where. It was  minimalist, had a HUGE bedroom and a balcony with a view (partially obscured by telephone wires). It has something of our beloved apartment in Killiney about it. There's even a few book shelves.

Travelling is undeniably great, but, as Paul Theroux put it in "Ghost Train to the Eastern Star" which I'm currently reading "Home is bliss. Waking in your own bed, watching the news on TV, cooking, seeing friends... Travel means living with strangers, eating their food, being always on the move to an uncertain destination, creating an itinerary which is continually shifting, cobbling together a set of habits in order to stay rational, finding ways of filling the day and being enlightened, avoiding danger...reflecting on where I am and what I am doing." And so, like Mr. Theroux, I find myself sometimes thinking of "home" or, maybe in my case, of "a home".

I am genuinely not, by any means, wishing away our time in Asia which we are truly loving. But I do, on occasion, find myself reminiscing about how I used to hop on the bike morning and evenings 5 days a week to go to/ come home from work and drop/ collect Luca off to the creche and how we spent our weekends en famille in our old apartment in Killiney, cooking our own meals, listening to Radio One on Saturday and Sunday morning whilst reading the papers (I loved my "fix" of Roisin on a Saturday) with a big pot of coffee and hot buttered soda bread (has to be McCambridges) on the table. While Luca happily whiled away hours exploring his toy boxes or his own little book shelves. Feeding the birds with our post breakfast crumbs. Catching up with family and friends. These things I do miss.

I don't mean or want to sound homesick because I honestly don't think I am but I guess that between the cafe/restaurant and this homely feel apartment where we enjoyed a few days off the bikes, where Luca enjoyed some impromptu naps and where the birds enjoyed the leftover crumbs from our breakfast, I just got to thinking about our settled life is all. I wouldn't swap places with the me of a year ago though and I am genuinely excited about what I and we will be doing a year from now too. Quietly confident that all will work out for us.

We enjoyed our time here at Kamala Beach. The beaches are quite busy though, even during this low tourist season. Maybe we've just been spoilt and got used to virtually deserted ones. The waves are really big at this time of year - perfect for surfing -  but not very swim friendly.  Especially for a two year old. Our apartment had a fantastic communal pool though which we've been able to enjoy exclusively as the only guests here. One of the serious perks of travelling through Thailand during the low tourist season is being spoilt for choice for accommodation and getting discounts on it. Pretty good reasons to travel here at this time of the year. Apparently the Monsoons are due to hit this region soon though so we'd better get pedalling fast up to Bangkok.


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