Spring in Melbourne

It must be spring in Melbourne: Spring Carnival horse racing has started and there are ladies to be seen in town wearing light & often skimpy spring fashions on their way to & from the races. We’ve just had a week or so of clear blue skies and relative warmth (20-25 degrees Celsius) to get everyone feeling like Spring has sprung and it’s safe to shed a few layers of clothing.

So what does Melbourne’s weather decide to do? Why, flip to cold and start the rain bucketing down, what else? We’re back to 12-16 degrees, it’s raining, there’s storms (with hail, no less) and lots of wind. The Bureau are predicting coldish temperatures into next week and there are currently warnings for flooding in the catchment areas, severe winds across the bay & district (gale force & damaging) and potential for flash flooding.

Great time for my parents to come down from their place in tropical Thailand to visit us, no? :)

NOTE: Actually, the flooding in the catchment areas is not all bad – we need the rain to help refill our water supplies as the 10 year drought we’ve been in had them getting worryingly low.


During our stay in Thailand, we spent a week on the island of Phuket, staying at the Andaman Seaview Hotel on Karon Beach, in the south west. We flew down from Bangkok and were picked up by the hotel’s bus when we arrived at the airport in the north of the island.

The first few days we were there, rain showers would briefly cool but afterwards, the heat would bring humidty beyond belief. We spent a lot of time near the pool or in the air conditioning. We did get down to the beach a couple of times but didn’t stay long due to the rain returning.

I wasn’t having much luck with Internet access as I had to rely on wireless and coverage around the hotel was spotty at best. Fortunately, the best place for access turned out to be at the poolside bar. Damn, gotta hate that, no?

On the third day, the clouds and haze lifted, giving us beautiful weather to be by the beach, then by the pool. Nykolai really enjoyed being in the water, either at the beach or, more often, in the pool. I was able to keep an eye on him from the bar, having a few beers and reading or surfing the ‘net. Talk about some serious relaxing – it was wonderful.

After a few days, we figured there’d been enough time to relax and it was time to do some tourist-type stuff. We wound up going with Island Hopper for a day of snorkeling. After a rather intense bus trip from our hotel across the island to Phuket town itself, we got kitted out with gear and jumped on a powerboat for a 20 minute ride across to Khai Nok Island, just a few miles away. Here we spent the morning and had lunch, enjoying snorkeling off the beach. We had some amazing moments here, including being mugged by a bazillion fish when we took some food into the water for them. Oh my. I can only hope the underwater photos come out OK (they’re still off being developed).

After lunch we jumped on another boat and headed out to Khai Nui Island, about a mile away. Here we snorkeled off the boat as you couldn’t get up to the little island itself (rocks, protected, etc). This gave us about another hour or so diving down to the coral and exploring. The crew on the boat would take great delight in throwing small bits of bread into the water near us, leading to yet another mugging as fish came from everywhere to feed.

Finally it was back to Khai Nok to get the bags we’d left, relax for an hour or so and then board a boat back to Phuket. From there, another bus took us back to our hotel – this time it was a much more relaxed drive.

The next day we went on a half-day elephant safari with Siam Safari nature tours. Once again we were picked up by bus and taken over the hills in the middle of the island, heading towards Phuket town. We stopped well before Phuket though and piled into 4WDs to head back up into a different part of the hills. There we were shown some Thai cooking, watched a monkey being trained to pick coconuts, had a lesson in how to make use of every part of a coconut, saw baby elephants being trained and then went for an elephant ride around the native bush. After our ride we had lunch in the bush and then rode the 4WDs back to the depot, got on our bus and headed back to the hotel.

While there were a number of restaurants around the hotel, we wound up having dinner most nights at a little restaurant close by. The food was incredible and the staff really looked after us. When they found out that Kitt and I really like spicy food they took great delight in taking us through a number of their best meals over a few nights.

Sadly, our last day came all too quickly and it was time to return to Bangkok via yet another bus trip back over the hills and up through the island to the airport. Arriving back in Bangkok we found that there was an airshow going on at Don Mueang airport with some brightly coloured F16s entertaining a large crowd over on the military side. We got to see (and hear) a bit of it from the car as we drove back to my parent’s place.

All up, our time in Phuket was great – a good combination of relaxation and fun. Now we just have to try to save some money to get back there again…

Back home to the cold

We’re back home to Melbourne and it’s bloody cold! For two weeks in Thailand we set the airconditioning to 20 degrees and thought that was deliciously cool. Now we’ve got our heaters running just to get *up* to 20 degrees in the house.

Apparently while we were away it was nice, dry weather but since we’ve returned it’s gone back to rain and cold. Guess we carried the rain with us as the rains in Bangkok started earlier than expected about when we arrived. Hmmm – wonder if we can test this by taking a holiday to a desert area :)

I have a few entries to complete about our time in Phuket and back in Bangkok, including snorkeling, elephant rides, tailored clothing and still more bowling. I’ll get around to finishing them this week – plus loading a few photos (no, really! :) )

It’s good to be home again although I could do without the cold. I managed to last 4.5 hours at the office on Monday before my relaxed, happy “freshly vacationed” feelings were destroyed. Given the general “fun” on this project, I’m surprised it took that long. Oh well – incentive to start planning the next trip I guess…

Poolside Connections

We’ve been in Phuket since Saturday arvo and it’s taken me until now (Monday arvo) to think about getting online again. We’re staying at the Andaman Seaview Hotel in the south west of Phuket Island on Karon beach.

I guess I’ve been relaxing a bit (beach, pool, books, food, hanging out). They have wireless here and it’s paid by the day – about AUS$10 per 24 hour session. Sadly, I can’t access it in our room as the signal drops off on the other side of the pool from reception. Fortunately signal strength is good at the pool side bar so I’m online with a beer and a view.

Lots been happening and more about to happen over the next couple of days. I’ll get the blog caught up after I wade through all the emails I just downloaded…

Kiss the snake…

Songkran was over (road toll over the 4 day period was just over 400 people dead), the squirting was done and now any time we returned to my parent’s apartment soaking wet it was thanks to the heat & humidity. For a bit of a distraction, Kitt, Nykolai, my father & I went to the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute in Bangkok, the home of a Snake Farm run by the Thai Red Cross.

Nykolai had been with my father about 5 years ago when I had been working on a project in Korea. On a lark they’d gone down and 5 year old Nykolai had been draped in a python (the snake, not the programming language) and had everyone going crazy when he kissed its head. Sadly, dad had not taken the camera so we missed out on having the moment recorded visually.

This time we went loaded with camera and spent some time touring the new museum they’ve set up. It’s an amazing set of exhibits with live snakes, samples, replicas and multi-media shows describing everything about snakes. Well worth the visit.

After checking the displays we watched the live show where handlers bring out a king cobra, siamese cobra, pit viper, rat snake (not venomous) and a couple of other snakes. You’re right up there with the snakes so it’s a great show. The final part of the show is the python. Before they brought it out, they asked who wanted to hold it? Nykolai’s hand shot up and, Thai’s loving kids, he was chosen to go down and wait as a handler brought this huge snake out. The lady running the show had Nykolai looking the wrong way so the snake appeared rather surprisingly from behind, much to everyone’s amusement (even Nykolai’s).

So, we now have a few photos of Nykolai holding a Phython and photos of the other snakes. I’ll get around to loading them eventually.

Amazing Dining Experience

Last night Kitt and I had our anniversary night at the Lebua Hotel. On arrival at the front door, we were met by porters and a lovely young lady as we got out of the taxi. The lady escorted us to a large area with couches & chairs and asked us to sit and relax. She took our passports and booking details away and returned not long after with our room key. She then escorted us up here, showed us through the room, explained the features and then had us sign for everything. A different way to previous hotels I’ve stayed at.

Our room is on the 55th floor of the building with a great view out to the west, including a long curving stretch of the river, highways, buildings, temples, the works. Of course, the first thing I zero in on when we got here were the two helipads on buildings nearby. Fortunately Kitt is used to her aircraft-geek partner so there wasn’t much rolling of eyes when I said “Oh look, helipads”…

The balcony doors are locked by default and they offer you the chance to unlock them. If you take the offer, you have to sign a waiver saying you’ll obey the rules (nothing on the railing, throw nothing off, etc etc etc). Yet another difference as other hotels have never had this aspect (even when they had opening windows or balconies).

Speaking to my father earlier today, he said that this place was actually built as apartments by a Hong Kong group. They designed & built it based on Chinese/Hong Kong layouts which totally bombed over here as no one wanted to live in long, narrow apartments right next to each other, etc. The place was empty for a while and it wasn’t until the Lebua crowd took it on as a hotel and they did the rest of it as offices that it finally filled out. Interesting…

For dinner we went upstairs to the 63rd floor where the Sirocco restaurant is located outside on the roof. Serving Mediterranean food with the city all around you is awesome experience to be sure. The food was incredible, the service was perfect and the view was amazing. A jazz combo played light music from the terrace above and a breeze was blowing so it was warm, dry and the coolest we’ve felt outside since we got here.

We went to get a couple of photos looking out a different direction to the “stock” shot they have (down off a terrace onto the food & bar area) but they have a “no photos” rule for that direction. Not sure if it was just that direction or no photos in general. You can take shots at your seats, but not up on the terrace. Odd.

It cost us about AUS$350 for the meal covering entre, main & desert plus a bottle of wine (that was $120 right there). The food was some of the best I’ve eaten and the wine worked marvelously with both entre & main. The moon was hazily viewed through the overcast and one solitary star was strong enough to get through as well (Sirrus, one of the brightest stars in the sky). Bangkok was stretched out around us and we could view north & east plus around to the south. The Dome was rising up behind us blocking the view west but who cares – it was great. Besides, I could see the aircraft landing & taking off at Don Mueang to the north and Suvarnabhumi to the east. Romance, unique, special *and* aircraft – how can you beat that? :)

We totally recommend the Lebua and its Sirocco restaurant for anyone wanting a romantic dining experience or a gathering for friends/business in an amazing venue.

More Songkran Soakings

Today we went for a walk to a local super market to pick up some supplies that Kitt and I would need for tonight. We’re spending our anniversary night at The Lebua Hotel so we wanted to stock up on nibblies, booze, water and so on so we wouldn’t have to raid the mini-bar. Given that Songkran is still being celebrated at maximum drenching levels, we dressed in easily washed clothes, wrapped our wallets in plastic and set out on the 3 block trek to the store.

Walking down Soi Prommit was easy, but Sukhumvit Soi 39 meant getting past 2 groups with hoses, tubs, buckets and containers. Nykolai had his backpack super-soaker as usual so he tried to give cover but failed miserably. We were rather wet by the time we reached Sukhumvit Road. We managed to get down Sukhimvit to the store without any further hassles and then proceeded to turn into ice cubes in the super market’s aircon…

Loaded with supplies, we began our return with full expectation of further drenching. Passing once again along Soi 39, we were thoroughly drenched by the two groups who also proceeded to smear a white/grey paste all over our faces. One group about 3 stories up were throwing buckets of water and running a hose. Fortunately the shopping was all in bags…

Thinking we were home safe as we walked back down Soi Prommit, we got ambushed by a bunch of kids in the back of a Soi Taxi (imagine a small mini-van with an open back – like a cross between a Tuk Tuk and a tiny van – I’ll get photos up eventually :) Further soaking and a wet, squelching walk back to the apartment where the guards at the gate were most amused to see our drenched arrival.

I really really love Bangkok :)

Songkran Soaking

Here in Bangkok it continues to be in the high 30’s and obscenely humid. Fans are running in the house and we put the aircon on at night or we’d never sleep. Yesterday it rained for a bit in the morning and there was a hint of thunder – the first rain they’ve had in Bangkok since before Christmas.

Outside the Songkran festival is in full swing so Nykolai has been out joining in. He went off with his backpack super-soaker to escort my father down to the shops, squirting people & cars all over the place. Later in the afternoon, I took him down to the gate and we spent a few hours soaking people going past and being soaked back. One four wheel drive pulled up as he squirted the car, opened a small window in the back and three kids with super-soakers launched a drenching counter attack. Later on utes were driving past with people in the back, large tubs of water and buckets to throw it around (as well as squirt guns). Cars are driving past covered in flour powder as well as water. A lady walking down the street has a bigger backpack super-soaker than Nykolai and the two of them square off and proceed to drench each other. A ute comes back to our building and comes in the gate as we’re refilling Nykolai’s backpack – the back is filled with soaking wet ladies who have been out driving around and engaging in water based warfare. After a quick squirt gun fight with Nykolai, they all get together so I can take their photos.

Finally I call end and drag a very wet but happy young boy upstairs to strip down, towel off and change into dry clothing.

Same stuff again tomorrow but this time *I* have to go out and get supplies. Fortunately, we have lots of ziplock bags to protect wallets and cameras :)

Boiling in Bangkok

So, here we are in Bangkok and it’s damned hot (35 Celcius and more every day) and humid beyond belief. We’re talking 2, 3 or 4 showers a day and it’s STILL not enough. It’s great to be here again – I missed this place. We came into the new airport (Suvarnabhumi Airport) and it looks great from the outside but once you get inside it’s all raw concrete and looks sorta unfinished. Officially it’s finished – oh – OK – oops – sorry – my bad…

Right now it’s Songkran (Thailand’s new year) and the place is going nuts. Everyone drives somewhere to be with family, usually into the country. They’re trying to keep the holiday road toll below 400 this year (yes, that’s 400 deaths in 4 days) as it’s usually around 450-500 people over the 4 day Songkran period. It officially started today (Saturday) but they start the road toll on the Friday. So far, it’s over 50 people dead on the roads already.

That’s almost 1/3 of Australia’s annual road toll in 4 days. Amazing.

Traditionally Songkran involves sprinkling a little bit of water on people for good luck. In true escalation of warfare style, this has now evolved into dumping buckets of ice-water on people out in the street. Water pistols & super-soakers are everywhere. We’ve already been squirted just walking a couple of blocks to the 7-Eleven. Mind you, with the heat, it’s kinda welcome. Mom has picked up a backpack super-soaker for Nykolai and he’s going to camp out at the gate to the building and squirt hell out of those going past. He gets all the luck… :)

After Songkran I’m planning to catch up with a few of the people we work with over here – folks from the UN and NGOs. Should be fun to put names to faces.

For now it’s a few beers, some great food (mmmm, spicy!!!!) and hanging out with family while sitting in the breeze of an electric fan. Woo hoo :)