There's nowhere else that has a Christmas filled with centuries of tradition as an English Christmas, and I've had a few around the world. I do, though, feel that commercialism has taken its toll and not in a good way; but a turkey roast with all the trimmings and a proper Christmas tree hasn't changed a bit. It is one of the most colourful times of the year where houses are lit all sparkle and glitter. As I'm writing this we’ve had enough food and drinks to sink a battle ship and I wouldn't mind not seeing another slice of turkey between now and next Christmas.
Yesterday we went for yet another after Christmas dinner, this time to The Tally Ho Freehouse in Eversley, Berkshire. Unfortunately, it was a mistake from the moment we entered the place. Having to wait for drinks far too long, as soon we were seated we got told our orders couldn’t be taken for another 20 minutes. We almost got out unscathed until a waiter threw a tray of drinks all over us (a nice mix of white wine and beer); we will never darken that places door again, dreadful service.
Coming home the other night in almost balmy warm weather, especially for the UK in December. The moon was full; you could almost see a face in it and a few wispy clouds: it played its part in the Christmas season. The radio and TV playing Silent Night hearing "trim the halls with bails of holly tra la la la la la la”. As soon as Christmas is over, British TV is full of over-priced package holidays to the likes of Spain and Greece, holidays that will be much cheaper if people just wait for a few more weeks at least. But now the major rush of merry making is over with, just a few more days to go before it revs up again for new year.
After a very short flight from Bangkok we arrive in Koh Samui. The airport terminal - if you can call it that - is more like a resort in itself, relaxed. I wish more airports were like this. Bags collected we head outside to look for the car that is picking us up and there in big red letters ‘Saboey Resort’, that's us for the next few days.
The car journey from the airport was only a matter of minutes and check-in efficiently done we were delivered to our beach view villa. One thing I will add straight away is that the bath in the villa could pass as a small swimming pool elsewhere. We headed out with the few steps it took to reach the pool outside and spent our first afternoon swimming lounging in the shade and walking along the beach.
It soon got to that time of day when a nice cold glass of wine would be appreciated. Low and behold, just like magic, two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc appeared, thanks to the bar man. Half an hour later, shorts t-shirts and flip-flops on, we decided to go explore what the street outside had to offer. It is always good to see a 7/11 on our doorstep; always comes in handy for a cold beer or two. Next a few open air restaurants which we will make good use of I'm sure. We grabbed a few beers from 7/11 on our way back to the hotel, time to change for dinner.
Back at the Saboey’s bar, a couple of more glasses of white to hand we have a look at the menu. I spot spicy beef Thai salad: I'm sold. “Shall we have dinner here tonight”, I heard myself saying. My salad was wonderful, just the right amount of spice which I love and washed down with a few more glasses of that grape juice. Time to see what the street outside has to offer after sunset. To be honest, there isn't all that much but more than enough for the few days we will be here.
Next morning after a more than ample breakfast at the Saboey we decided to walk along the beach in the direction of Big Buddha. After about ten minutes along the beach we couldn't get any further and had to go along the road the rest of the way. There was more than just Big Buddha, in fact it was like a small village: bars, cafes, shops; time for a nice iced coffee. The stairs up to Big Buddha were pretty tiring in that heat and after our walk there in the first place, but the view made it well worth it.
Time to head back to the hotel for a nice refreshing swim in the pool and sea. That evening we wanted to try one of the typical Thai restaurants along the road. We love these places: genuine Thai food eaten from plastic tables and chairs, you can't beat that. We decided to share so as not to miss out. Therefore, we ordered three mains and two lots of rice and a couple of glasses of wine (well, it was on the menu!). We had only been sat what seemed like a few minutes when the girl that served us gave us two more glasses of wine saying sorry it's taking so long, we said “thank you, but there's no rush, we are fine”. We felt a bit guilty because the price of the wine was probably almost all their profit gone. The food again was wonderful, you couldn't get this at home even in the best Thai restaurants. We ordered a small carafe of wine to wash the wonderful food down and left a healthy tip as we felt so guilty over the free glasses we were given. We will return to this place.
The next morning we hired a moped - much against my better judgement -and sped off around the island. I hadn't ridden one of these things in years and, to be honest, didn't feel comfortable doing it now. Luckily, we got around unscathed and just before we got back we came across Fisherman's Village: time for some flip-flop shopping. We decided to have a late lunch down on the beach at one of the trendy restaurants. No wine for me, being the bike-rider. We still had a good ten minutes on that hair dryer sounding moped to get back to the Saboey and safety. The amount of people you see walking around with bandages on their arms all from moped crashes, I wouldn't hire one again.
On our last evening we went back to the restaurant along the road. We chose a different mix this evening and a carafe of white wine. A nice way to round off our first visit to Koh Samui.
Having travelled through India for the last few weeks we decided that after Calcutta we would fly to Bangkok for a weeks R&R. Once we were on the plane, we took out the Lonely Planet, flipped it open at a page and it opened at Hua Hin: destination decided. Neither of us knew anything about Hua Hin. How far it was from Bangkok, where to stay or what there was to do, but I do love an adventure.
Lonely Planet mentioned that we could get there by train in a matter of hours, so once we had landed in Bangkok we headed for the train station. Tickets in hand we found ourselves in 3rd class alongside chickens and all sorts; I still today wonder why we got the cheapest tickets available or perhaps that's all that was available, but we made do. We got to know the chickens quite well on the journey but, luckily, after a few hours the train halted in Hua Hin: ‘bye bye chickens, let our adventure begin.’
Not having a clue where we were we got a taxi into the village and asked the driver to drop us close to the beach. Bingo: the Mod Guesthouse, right over the water and dead cheap; we got a room upstairs with a few fans but no airco and it was hot, but who cares. We ditched our bags and went off to explore and almost straight away we realised we'd hit the jackpot with this place. It seemed to have everything we were looking for: a nice beach on our doorstep and enough restaurants and bars for the week we would be there. We had dinner that evening just along the road on a pier over the water, had wonderful seafood all washed down with ice cold beer, this was in 1998.
We had booked a hotel recommended by friends with a nice rooftop swimming pool and just a short stroll down to the beach. We ambled along saying “oh look that's new, what did that used to be, that's empty”. What became apparent was that some if not most of the new trendy restaurants down by the water had gone and been replaced by Thai massage or one of those places where you put your feet in fish tanks so the fish nibble your feet. I didn't say anything at this moment but I knew I wanted to leave earlier than we planned.
We had dinner at what for us was a new place towards the beach. It was a nice setting over the water and dinner was wonderful. You can't get much better than Thai food, at least I don't think so. After dinner we headed up the street to a group of bars that had been there since our first ever visit and nothing had changed here, except the road. It was full of coaches bringing more people in and shipping them out. We had a nice few cold beers then time to walk back to the hotel.
Next morning we wanted to have breakfast somewhere different but after wandering the streets hoping to find just what we were looking for we didn't, that was it. I said to my partner “things have changed here haven't they?” Immediately the reply big time: what shall we do, I said (already packing my bag in my head), what shall we do came the reply. I took the goat by the horns and said “I don't think I want to stay for four days” and within seconds the decision had been made: back to the hotel our apologies for leaving early. Taxi on its way, bags packed: Bangkok here we come. We ended up on Koh Samui after a short flight from Bangkok but that's another story. My journey through Hua Hin lasted around sixteen years; most of it was great but sometimes changes aren't for the better. On the other hand, people who are now discovering Hua Hin for the first time and love it don't know the past so if you’re one of them: enjoy it, I can certainly say I did.
Born in Chiswick West London, grew up in Royal Berkshire, currently living in Amsterdam, the Netherlands