Our Diary Thailand (2)

Once in a while fate slips in a googly that disrupts your steady course- no catostrophies, just a good few side swipes. That's been the sum of the last six months or so.

Following our cruise around Thailand we decided to haul out and carry out some maintenance at Pangkor Marina, Malaysia - a small but efficient yard with plenty of local expertise. After a few weeks of prep work we left Poco on the hard, with the decks prepared and instructions for Joe, the local contractor, to prep the bottom and polish the topsides.

We then set of for a 6week trip around SE Asia. The trip was a huge success. We stayed in some very nice hotels and all went smoothly. A brief resumé is below.

However, during all this our main preoccupations this year (2014) were health related and crossing the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is the last big blue for us and we would love to get back to Europe and enjoy all that it has to offer - and maybe start transitioning back to being land lubbers again.

The problem with the Indian Ocean is not the sailing but the politics of the Middle East and pirates - keen to capture and ransom boats. The alternative is to round South Africa and embark on a 6,000 mile voyage back to Europe. This would be a 2-3 year undertaking and, as we have now been at sea for 11 years, can we survive another few years?

Hence health is a major concern. After Pippa's visit in April, Keith suffered a major infection in his foot from a sea urchin spine. This sent his immune system into overdrive which was reflected in the 6-monthly blood tests used to monitor his Lymphoma. Whilst we were in Penang we decided that Christine should also check out all her niggling health problems. This culminated in a small operation to have her gall bladder removed. The medical facilities in Penang, Malaysia are excellent and state-of-the-art with many of the specialists trained in the UK and USA. Costs are reasonable, language no problem and no waiting lists!

After this pit stop we went on our travels. Flying is a good way to get around, however its major downside is the likelihood of catching an infection from the crowds, especially if you have a compromised immune system like Keith has. Sure enough, half way through our trip he picked up a chest infection that would not shift despite repeated antibiotics.

Following our trip we went back to Penang to seek advice and check Keith's immune system; his markers were up again and a further course of stronger antibiotics was prescribed. Around December he finally shook off these ailments, however the blood test results showed his markers were up again! Not a current cause for concern, but not what we expected.

We had a visit to KL to see Rosie, our new granddaughter, in October when they came over to see Jas' parents which was a real delight.

We finally got back to Poco Andante mid-October and set-to to finish the underwater jobs. These done she was just about in the water when poor Poco got hit by a lightning strike taking out many of the electronics. This resulted in a month delay and a backbreaking time to replace the items that had suffered.

Fate can also produce some positives as well. Whilst we were on the hard we had a visit from a fellow cruiser who had a few queries. Christine was certain she knew this couple but couldn't place them; they were new to cruising so it wasn't from this arena. Anyway over dinner with them one evening it clicked. Gill and Aidan were once one of Christine's clients/colleagues in our previous UK existence. What an amazing coincidence.

We are now back in the water off some island in Thailand and after much discussion we have decided to put off the decision to cross the Indian Ocean until next season and will enjoy Thailand and Malaysia again, with maybe some more overland travel. Who knows? Fate may again cause us to reassess.

SE Asian Trip - check out the photos on the links below.

Bangkok, Thailand. Highlights: Snake farm- wore a Burmese Python Scarf. Heavy! Counterfeit Museum - more than just handbags, informative. Bridge on the River Kwai and the Death Railway

Luang Prabang, Northern Laos. Fell in love with this old colonial town. Food great. Went on Elephant ride and bathed with them in the Mekong River - humbled by these huge beasts. Cooking classes for Keith, silk weaving for Christine; there are extremely skilful artisans here (she could have bought so much!), she also helped out a few times at Big Brother Mouse, a volunteer organisation helping teach English to local students Spent the day at the boat races, in front of our hotel - 20 Teams of 50 oarsmen in 100 foot long canoes, battling it out on the muddy river. This, as well as the early morning procession of 100's of monks collecting alms - both a spectacle.

Vientiane, capital of Laos. Not much here. Cycled to COPE Centre who provide artificial limbs for victims of land mines and other unexploded ordinance dropped during the Vietnam War. Still a major problem. Laos was neutral during this conflict but had hundreds of millions of ordinance dropped on them; many of them failed to explode and still cause hundreds of injuries each year.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Old French colonial town. Cambodia, still hasn't recovered from the Khmer Rouges' barbaric rule of four years in the late seventies. They murdered millions of people in sites called the killing fields. The main monument to this slaughter can be seen just outside of the city. A well laid out park, with audio guided walk, culminates in a tall mausoleum filled with human sculls. The normal tourist trip to this site also includes a visit to S21 a school that had been turned into a torture centre for the Khmer Rouge. I'm sure everyone who visits must ask the question "Why did the world turn a blind eye to this barbarity?"

Siem Reap, Cambodia. 1,000 year old temple ruins covering an awe inspiring 50 + square kms. We covered these on bicycles, the first day visiting the largest temples and the second on a 35km grand tour of the outlying sites and the third day recovering by the pool at our small, but lovely boutique hotel.

Battambang, Cambodia. We crossed TonLe Sap Lake the largest inland waterway in SE Asia - a 6 hour journey in a small long tail ferry. The main channel was full of water hyacinths; not sure how the helmsman found his way through. There were frequent stops to clear the motor of plant debris. Some channels were so narrow you had to stand in the centre of the boat to avoid being hit by branches. A very interesting trip. Half way along we stopped at a floating village/town for light refreshments. Battambang itself was a little run down but the journey there was worth it.

Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam. Large bustling modern city, very affluent. The war remnants museum was worth the visit, the displays showing Vietnam's version of events during the Vietnam War was explained in three languages: Vietnamese, English and propaganda.

The presidential palace has been restored to its original 1968 splendour complete with the tank that crashed through the gate to signify the end of the war.

Hoi An, Vietnam. A delightful town turned over to the job of extracting money from tourists - a huge industry in Vietnam. Christine stocked up on new outfits, cheap but chic. Found a lovely restaurant next to our hotel. Ate there most nights as the food was so good.

Hué, Vietnam. Learnt lots about the history of Vietnam at the Citadel a large 200 year old walled city, heavily bombed but slowly being tastefully restored and with good information.

Phong Nha National Park, Vietnam. Took a connection from Hué to here via the DMZ and Vinh Moc Tunnels, a town that built a labyrinth underground to protect themselves from the incessant bombing. Worth the visit. The limestone caves at Phong Nha are the largest discovered in the world. The largest only discovered recently, can house the Empire state building of New York in its main chamber, was closed for the wet season. We visited a few others of equal magnitude - awesome. One such cave was a supply dump along the Ho Chi Minh trail. This was bombed almost daily but is so large and impregnable that only small scars are evident on the cliff face. I tried my hand at a bit of speleology ended up covered in mud squeezed through narrow passages and jumping from high wires into muddy rivers - refreshing.

Hanoi, Vietnam. The end of our Vietnam visit. Loved this city with all its little shops; some selling just one item, like brushes or wire or bamboo scaffolding!

Chang Mai, Thailand. Another old walled city. Met a guy from the East End of London, selling fresh fish and chips - UK style- unreal! In contrast, also visited a couple of tribal villages - certainly an eclectic mix.

The notes above do not cover all the lovely people we met and the fun time we had just wandering around. Travelling through this part of the world is an eye opener, from the affluent first world cities to the small villages with paddy fields and oxen as their main means of transport. Getting around was a major undertaking - we came close to major accidents twice during our trip, After one incident between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap
when the coach ahead hit an agricultural cart sending its occupants flying, we swerved and avoided total carnage, The road and weather was appalling. We decided to fly or go by train over larger distances. Even so, a similar accident occurred on a train trip from Dong Hoi to Hanoi. An agricultural tractor was hit by our train. Fortunately no one was hurt, however the train chef on board had a problem as the delay of over four hours meant another meal had to be served. This difficulty was obviously solved when we saw him come through the carriage with a couple of braces of chickens under his arm. Much better fare than the boiled duck embryo eggs served earlier on the journey. We took hundreds of photos and hopefully you will get a chance to check them out on the links below.

In total we were on the road for 7 weeks; Christine had budgeted $1,800 for the travel and accommodation for 6 weeks (excluding food, tours and entertainment, etc, extra). Our total spend was $1,900; that's one benefit of travelling with two accountants - budgets must be met! Saying that, we stayed in some lovely hotels (3 and 4 star) and the cost of meals, tours, etc., were not expensive and our switch to more flights did not impact the budget at all.