Asia Adventure | Part three | Koh Samui

What’s Delhi-belly anyway?’ she called – doubled up in pain – from the en suite bathroom. “And why Delhi when we’re in Cambodia!” He and I tried not to giggle. But then she was sick and sick and sick and before long He was declaring himself in the same state of affairs. No one laughed then.

We had been struck by a local tummy bug – Mini hit the most – rendering us doubled up in pain and certainly nil by mouth. Our travel day – via Bangkok with a good few hours stop over – was tricky to say the least. But we ate white rice, drank water and kept on going.

landing on the island of Koh Samui

landing on the island of Koh Samui

Finally we landed on the island of Koh Samui and found ourselves in a sanctuary of Thai beach calm. My brief for suitable hotel for part three of this tour was that it should be suitable for families but ABSOLUTELY not a ‘family hotel’. Continuing that it should not flash but really comfortable (as our final chill-out of the trip), with good food but not fussy fiddly cuisine and that it should make us feel as we are truly off the beaten track (eg nothing too busy in the madness of Koh Samui) where we could roam bare foot all day long.

Life of Yablon Tongsai Bay

Well, this is Tongsai Bay Resort.

life of yablon Samui

The first ever 5 star hotel on the island (back in 1983) but designed in the most understated, authentic way, the spacious 25 acre property feels more like a Thai home in its décor and design.

The story goes that the then chairman of The Imperial Family of Hotels first spotted Tongsai Bay from the sea and fell for it hook – line – sinker. For three months, he slept on the beach dreaming of his ideal resort on this plot of land. Passionate about the natural beauty of the bay, he stipulated that each cottage must be constructed from only one single tree.

our ridiculously large balcony deck - with outside bath!

our ridiculously large balcony deck – with outside bath!

There are now 83 of these cottages, the remaining natural surroundings remain unaltered and the business is still privately owned. (He sold off his hotel group but retained this jewel.)

table 5 for lunch anyone?

table 5 for lunch anyone?

That first night I was concerned that perhaps The Bug was leaving Mini dehydrated and generally not in good shape. I took to Facebook for some friendly doctor advice (potentially the social media platform’s perfect attribute) and slept less than I would have liked.

In the morning I turned to the hotel for advice and found us all in one of their cars making a dash for the island’s best hospital, Bangkok Hospital Samui (honestly it is mind-blowingly brilliant). An IV antibiotic drip later plus a party bag of medications for both Mini and Him, we were back on track.

a brand new Mini waiting for breakfast pancakes

a brand new Mini waiting for breakfast pancakes

 

milkshakes and freckles by the pool

milkshakes and freckles by the pool

 

coconut plantations are still the main source of income on the island

coconut plantations are still the main source of income on the island

 

boys in a boat

boys in a boat

So after five days of R&R, paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming and reading (you know the drill), we’ve come to the end of what has been a pretty thrilling adventure in Asia.

Tomorrow it’s time to journey home and to start to dream of new travels…

{To catch up – Part One of our adventure is here and Part Two here.}

 

 

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Asia Adventure | part two | Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The best thing about dividing up your holiday allocation into different mini adventures is that it feels like you spend MUCH longer away in total. Each touch down (I won’t say unpack as I don’t always…) opens up a new chapter and, besides, we all get along much better when one [holi]day doesn’t blur into the next.

the moat at Angkor Thom, Cambodia

the moat at Angkor Thom, Cambodia

So – day four in Siem Reap, Cambodia and I feel like we’ve been here for a couple of weeks. Recommended by an old contact of mine, Jono of Nomadic Thoughts, we decided to stay in more of a luxe lodge than a full-blown hotel. I hope La Residence D’Angkor won’t object to this description. Casual luxury, so that comfort and service are evident without the feeling of over-pampering or unnecessary fuss.

our hotel, La Residence D'Angkor

our hotel, La Residence D’Angkor

The rooms look out onto an impressive 30m pool and a super chilled sun lounger area. So when we haven’t been exploring, there’s been a fair amount of swimming, sleeping or reading/playing Chess in the open deck bar lounge.

a sad elephant at Angkor Thom… that's another story….

a sad elephant at Angkor Thom… but that’s another story….

… and a mischievous monkey

… and a mischievous monkey who I didn’t trust at all

The curious thing about Siem Reap is that, when planning this part of the trip, I had thought we were here mostly to explore those ruined temples. Booking the guide and allowing enough time for the most famous of these 12th century 8th wonders of the world was as far as I had gone.

incense burning in Angkor Wat

incense burning in Angkor Wat

But then, a press release had popped into my in-box a couple of weeks pre-trip. A new ethical fashion label called Holi, was launching and – guess what – designed, manufactured and seeded here in Siem Reap.

on the road | on a mission

on the road | on a mission

Loving the coincidence and intrigued by the business and its ethics, I got in touch with founder and CEO Leah Rodrigues asking if it might be possible for me to drop into the studio while in town. And while she and I were chatting, I explained how much I wanted to experience the real Siem Reap. And that’s how I found Touch A Life and the wonderful work Mavis Ching does.

Mini working in the Touch A Life kitchen

Mini washing potatoes with two of team who didn’t speak English

He and the Smalls were game before I had even finished explaining how much I wanted to get involved. I warned them that it would be hot, hard work and potentially emotional. But they were still game.

So yesterday we took a tuk tuk to Mavis’ back garden and – together with another dozen volunteers – made omelets, rice, a curry and a vat of soup (all gluten/meat free) for some 80 six to twelve year olds in need.

hot stove work

hot stove work as I fried the tofu for the curry

With Abba tunes blaring and some engaging Portuguese medical students for chitchat, we all mucked in washing, chopping, peeling and cooking the vast quantities of food. The atmosphere was fantastic.

Touch A Life Siem Reap

Small learns pretty quickly how to chop garlic really fine

Mini helped set up 4 large basins of water with some hand soap so that our guests would be able to wash before and after they ate.

And then they started to arrive.

Touch A Life Cambodia

Some had cycled 7km for the food. Others were on foot, either from the factory next door or from a local school. Mums were out at work or had simply too many mouths to feed. Every single one was grateful for the food and I could see how much they valued Mavis’ one-on-one attention as well as the Touch A Life community feel at large.

Mavis with the children

Mavis with the children

One boy came asking for shoes. Keen to teach them life skills, Mavis suggested he should wash up the pile of plates in return for some stock sliders.   Two of his friends got wind of the deal and rolled up their (proverbial) sleeves to help him out. Together the threesome worked their way through the washing and drying task.

Small entertains the hungry queue..

Small (being Small) entertains the hungry queue..

I kept observing as Mini and I handed out the omelet. (He was on curry serving and Small was tasked with giving each of them a vitamin).

Touch A Life Siem Reap

Toothache, headache, fevers. Mavis assessed and enabled. She knew each of the 80 by name elaborating on their familial circumstances as I keen to know.

Thank you’ each and every child said to us with glints in their eyes. ‘You’re welcome’ we chimed in response.

Touch A Life Siem Reap

Smiling gratefully at all the adults, I suddenly noticed how differently these children were looking at our Smalls. A real smile; a curious friendship grin. One girl even made a heart shape with her fingers, directed at Mini.

Mavis caught me wiping away a tear; she knew that the life being touched was mine.

Touch A Life feeds more than 5,000 hungry mouths a month in Siem Reap and Mavis’ team travels to the surrounding area every Saturday to distribute to those who can’t journey to her.  

{Part One of our adventure is here.  Part Three is still to come.}

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Asia Adventure | part one | Bangkok

Mandarin Oriental Bangkok swimming pool

Mandarin Oriental Bangkok swimming pool

This trip has been a long time coming. A really, really long time if you count the first time He and I mentioned the idea. On our way to Brother’s wedding in Melbourne we made our first visit to the iconic Mandarin Oriental hotel in Bangkok purely as a night stop-over. Relaxing by the swimming pool, we observed a family of four; children splashing around in the water while their parents (with a slightly smug smirk) read their books. Ice water, cold face flannels were served alongside coconut ice cream incase anyone felt remotely peckish. The scene was idyllic. All we needed to do was produce a family and return one day.

Bangkok Life of Yablon

Of course, life often doesn’t work out quite that way. The couple of smalls weren’t as forthcoming as we wished and, a few years later, we found ourselves returning to this beautiful hotel en route to a week’s holiday in Phuket.   In fact, I distinctly remember reading a book – on adoption – reasonably frantically.

family tuk tuk selfie

family tuk tuk selfie

And finally, this time, we’re 4. The city of smiles, our chosen hotel with quite astonishingly superior service and the (now present) Smalls has fulfilled our dream.

12 years on, Bangkok is, of course, much changed with a glittering skyline to reflect this.

trip down the Klongs

trip down the Klongs

But we did take a long tail boat down the Klongs to see how those live on the water. Shacks with pots and pots of well tended plants, barely there roofs plus the obligatory satellite dish. Fixated on showing our Smalls the world-at-large (ie those who aren’t complaining about piano practice and fish fingers), we also walked around the less privileged areas, trying our best to point out how life in Bangkok compares and contrasts to our own lives in London. Bartering, being street smart and respecting their culture led to many questions – some sharp and others plain amusing.

traditional dancing at the

traditional dancing at the hotel’s Sala Rim Naam restaurant

A little about the hotel, this beloved establishment. For those you aren’t aware, it first opened its doors 139 years ago. Since then royalty, statesmen, politicians, businessmen, authors and performers have enjoyed The Oriental’s hospitality. A sanctuary during the 2nd WW (occupied by both Japanese and American forces), the hotel went on to a new ownership of local city residents, including one Mr Jim Thompson (we loved visiting the “Thai Silk King”’s home).

beyond delicious homemade chocolates sent to the room

beyond delicious homemade chocolates sent to the room

Full of tradition, culture, class and yet intense luxury and probably the best service in the world, I can think of no better place I’d like to be permanently relocated.

Sometimes too much service can be an irritant. Not here.

Mini with her jasmine flower garland

Mini with her jasmine flower garland

Reviving jasmine flower garlands as you step off your long haul flight. A cocktail in the 1950s jazz Bamboo Bar. Traditional Thai cuisine and dancing across the river in the Sala Rim Naam restaurant. Handmade chocolates sent (from the lobby) to your room. A lift man who knows your name. A special message at turndown to lure you into a deep sleep. And that refreshing coconut ice cream by the pool.

cocktails at Bamboo Bar (usually kids aren't allowed in but Small sneaked in for a mock-tail)

cocktails at Bamboo Bar (usually kids aren’t allowed in but Small sneaked in for a mock-tail)

I honestly can’t think of any reason to leave this slice of heaven.

{Other than we are moving into part two:  Cambodia of our Asia adventure.}

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prescribing spontaneity

Life of Yablon Brighton

Spontaneity is properly lacking from our lives.   Most of us motor on in our daily routines and it feels that even a trip to the post office needs to be meticulously planned.

I suppose, as parents of the under 10 brigade, we often lack the opportunity. As a self-confessed obsessive plan-hatcher, I fully admit that life never seems more more than a SCHEDULED adventure.

Life of Yablon Brighton

So when He asked if we should potentially jump on a train to meet some of his friends in Brighton for lunch. And an afternoon on the beach.

I grabbed the bait. And ran with it.

Life of Yablon Brighton

Initially the Smalls were surprised. Really? They immediately retorted. But where will we sleep the night?

There was no plan and I suppose it unnerved them in their rigid routine.

(Actually the only plan was NOT to stay the night. A hotel bill and any quantity of dull packing would only ruin the spontaneity vibe.)

Life of Yablon Brighton

A midday train.

Fish/Chips at Lucky Beach. (completely & utterly recommend)

Some Brighton Pier action.

Ice cream all round.

A little beach life.

Home by 9pm; cheese on toast before bed.

 

Life of Yablon Brighton

Life of Yablon Brighton

Life of Yablon Brighton

unhatch those plans, my friends. It could just be the way forward.

Life of Yablon Brighton

 

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