Where the heart is

27 January 2019

As mentioned yesterday, Cornelia slept solidly for eleven and a half hours.  Her waking coincided with me needing to go to the loo.  I asked Ian to keep an eye on her while I nipped off, as I knew her “Mummy radar” would be strong! Sure enough, when I came back a few minutes later, Ian was in my seat and she was awake. Apparently she’d woken up the moment I’d left!! Anyway, she was in a thoroughly good mood, which only improved when she asked if she could now watch a movie, and I said yes! She started the Lion King again, cheerily telling me about all the different animals in the opening sequence. 🥰

She’d missed dinner last night (being fast asleep) so when breakfast was served, she munched her way through an omelette and baked beans, a mini muffin, a bread roll and a yoghurt, and sat quite happily watching the rest of the Lion King.

We were very excited to finally land back in England, and once we’d made it through passport control (where the officer told Cornelia that of all the thousands of people he’d seen through, she was his first Cornelia!) and collected our luggage, we headed through customs and into the arrivals hall.  Our first stop was to M&S to pick up some essential snacks for the coach journey home, then we took our time ambling over to the main bus terminal to wait for our coach to arrive.  We had landed at about 06:15, and I had allowed two hours for us to collect our bags, clear customs, and make it over to the central bus station, which turned out to be very pessimistic of me.  We had well over an hour to kill, and it was very cold at the bus station!  Although it is under cover, there are large automatic doors on all four sides, which were continuously opening and closing with people coming and going.  Immediately, we were missing our 30+ degrees of the southern hemisphere!

There was a Cafe Nero inside the station, so Cornelia and I went and sat inside for a hot chocolate and a cup of tea, while Ian decided to sit at one of the tables “outside”, as he didn’t want to leave our luggage trolley unattended.  Very noble of him, as I was bloody freezing and would happily have let it all be destroyed in return for a warm cuppa… Bugsy was good as gold, and received lots of compliments from other travellers who were impressed as she read out the various posters (“Oooh, Mummy, am I having BELGIAN hot chocolate?!”) and dashed outside to check on Daddy.  She was in the most joyful of spirits – obviously long sleeps on the plane suit her!

Once we’d drained our cups, it was nearly time to leave, so we gathered ourselves together and went to check the departures board which would tell us which lane our bus would be in.  Despite all of the other departures having numbers by them, ours simply stated “wait in departure lounge” (which feels like a total misnoma!).  As the minutes crept by, we started to wonder if something was amiss.  08:20 rolled by, and the expected departure time immediately changed to 08:23.  Then 08:25; 08:27; 08:35… and it finally disappeared from the board entirely!  Argh!! There were no announcements, but I spied a man in an official-looking jacket surrounded by people, and guessed (correctly) that he was the one with the information.  It turned out that the company which supplied coaches to National Express (Devon-bound) had gone into administration the day before, and so there was no vehicle.  Double argh!! We couldn’t believe that we had travelled around the world really without any major dramas or delays and then the final stage of our journey had gone so wrong!

The official told us that they were trying to find a nearby company which may be able to take us, and while we waited, Cornelia did star jumps to keep warm.  I was so glad that I had packed all our cold weather kit at the top of my suitcase, so we could pull it out easily.  Amazingly, a local coach company were able to supply a bus, and by 09:00, we were all safely installed in our seats.  But it was very cold again and the driver apologised and explained that it would take quite a long time for it to heat up.  And he was quite right.  Brrrrr.

I had bought Cornelia a “Frozen” magazine and a “Mr Men” magazine for the journey home, and she happily read through it, playing the games and chatting excitedly about them, which occupied her for pretty much the whole way to Exeter.  We had a couple of stops en route, and a fifteen minute “comfort break” in Taunton, arriving at the Exeter drop off point on Honiton Road shortly after 12:30.  Mum was there to meet us, which was lovely, and Cornelia raced through the car park to give her the biggest cuddle she possible could!  I’m not sure who was happier!  Ian’s shoulder was still giving him trouble, so I ferried the luggage over to Mum’s car and we just about all squeezed in!  It was so lovely to see Mum, and Cornelia chatted non-stop all the way home.

We finally arrived home and it felt quite surreal coming back into our house, which had been occupied by someone else for the last nine months!  Pete, our cleaner, had done a great job of preparing it for our return, and it smelt clean as we bundled ourselves in at last.

Mum had been kind enough to cook a lasagne for us, so it was just a matter of heating that up for supper, which we all devoured.

And as we clambered into our own bed again, that surreal feeling that it was all over hung in the air.  But it was matched by the excitement of being home, and with Cornelia starting school in a month, the next adventure does not seem so far away!

One more sleep!

26 January 2019

We were up at 06:00 ready and excited for the long day ahead! I dressed Cornelia while she was still three-quarters asleep, then let her lie in bed until I’d taken most of the bags down to reception. She wasn’t best pleased about being woken so early again, but when I reminded her that we were starting our journey home, she became far more interested in getting up! I lugged her and the final bags down to reception where we waited for our 07:00 taxi. And waited. And waited. This was why I’d asked Ian to confirm the taxi booking with Mattia, the manager, last night… and then just as I was thrusting Mattia’s business card into Ian’s hand and demand he called him, lo and behold, a flustered taxi driver came running around the corner showing us his phone with our room number on it. He had gone to the wrong apartment block…! Phew! It took him another five minutes to return to his car and drive around to us, but finally we were on our way.

Annoyingly, I had woken with a deep discomfort in my chest, and I could feel it sinking into me as the drive progressed. I thought, when I had a scratchy throat last night, that it was probably just a bit of sea water that had tickled it, but I bet that by the time I get home, I’ll have my first cold in at least nine months!

The drive was very busy again with rush hour traffic, so it took over an hour to get there, but there were no accidents or scary moments, which is always a relief in the crazy traffic! We arrived safely at Phuket airport, where we discovered that the only long queue in the terminal belonged to our Scoot flight! We haven’t flown Scoot before and the reviews online aren’t brilliant, but they were really good. When we check in four bags, we always worry that someone will make us pay for the extra one, but they didn’t blink an eye and happily took all four cases and the car seat. By the time we’d made it through security, Bugsy was tired and hungry, and whilst I knew she wouldn’t sleep, I was pretty confident a pain au chocolat would sort her out. Happy four year old – tick!

The crew on board were also friendly and Cornelia was her usual confident little self, greeting everyone nicely and smiling at them, so they would probably have let her get away with murder. As it happened, she sat watching her Kindle for the duration of the flight, which was a little under two hours, and we were in Singapore by lunchtime.

As is always the way, so Ian told me, our luggage was on the carousel before we even reached it, and we piled up our trolley and headed off to find a playground and some lunch.  Once the play area had been spotted, Cornelia had absolutely no interest in lunch whatsoever!  With cries of “A superhero never gives up!” Cornelia climbed under and over and around the little obstacles, herding along a small group of kids who shrieked with joy as they chased each other around.  Ian went off for a wander, while I sat and felt sorry for myself, trying not to breath because breathing hurt my chest so much.  By now, I was also sweating quite a lot and feeling pretty awful and, if I’m honest, a bit sorry for myself!  Whilst I was waiting for Ian, I looked online at the check in options for our flight, which wasn’t until 23:55.  It was good news – Qantas open their check in desks at 15:45, for all their flights, which meant that we could at least get rid of our suitcases early.  We were hoping to meet Laura, Howard and Sofie later, as (by some incredible coincidence) they were flying home from their four-month travels at 23:45 from Singapore, and as they would be in transit, we needed to be on the departures side of security and passport control.  We just hoped that we could move from one terminal to the other (we were flying from T1, they were flying from T3).

We had some lunch – fried katsu chicken – before heading over to the Qantas desks, where we joined a long queue for check in.  We tried printing our boarding passes and luggage tags at the kiosks first, but because we were so early, it just told us it couldn’t help, so the queue was our only option.  The queue was long because, despite saying the desks opened at 15:45 online, the staff advised that they wouldn’t open until 16:00.  No matter – we didn’t have anything else to do!  Check in for our final flight went smoothly, and once we’d dropped off Cornelia’s car seat at the “oversized luggage” area, we ambled through security and into the departures area.

First up was the play area for Cornelia, of course!  It was a much bigger soft play area, and Ian bought teas while I held my head in my hands and tried not to feel too sorry for myself.  I failed!

Once Cornelia had had enough of playing, she came and sat with me at the table, and had some crisps and watched her Kindle for a while.  She was also quite hot again, and I was immediately regretting packing the sachets of Calpol in our hold luggage.

We left the play area eventually (a man was playing the same repetitive riff on his ukulele over and over and over again) and found a TV area with four TVs forming a square, surrounded by rows of double chairs, into which speakers for each TV that the chairs faced were built.  One of the TVs was showing kids’ programmes, specifically Spongebob Squarepants, one of Ian’s favourites, so he and Cornelia settled down to watch it while I went to see if I could buy that gold bar celebrating the Chinese New Year of the Pig, which I’d seen the last time we were in Singapore Airport.  Hurrah, success, and that’s Cornelia’s 18th birthday present now sorted!

When I went back to the TV area, there was a group of teenage boys from Australia all watching Spongebob, alongside Cornelia and Ian, laughing away at it.  I loved that this group (which turned out to be part of the Australian swim team) found it so funny, and it reminded me of Charlotte and Matthew watching it years ago with Ian.  I think they’d still laugh at it today too!

My chest discomfort became unbearable at times, and I was struggling to walk at any decent pace without feeling as if I were gasping for breath. My heart resting rate wasn’t going any lower than 63, so I knew something wasn’t right. (It has been hanging around 51 for the last few weeks.) Eventually, I had to ask Ian to get me something from the chemist, to reduce the temperature I knew I had, and hoped that the Panadol he returned with would do the trick.  He also bought some Calpol for Cornelia, who was now getting very tired too, and we all dosed up and sat quietly for a bit cuddling on the chair.

I then went for a walk to see if I could clear my fuzzy head but (and don’t laugh) I was confused, I ended up getting lost in the terminal and couldn’t find my way back to where I’d left Ian and Bugsy.  I was almost in tears – definitely a sign that I wasn’t well – before I recognised a set of escalators and found the TV area again.  Phew!  We were due to meet Laura et al at around 20:00, so we went off for something to eat at around 19:00.  We bought Cornelia a sandwich from Pret a Manger, and although she only ate half, it was hopefully enough to see her through.  I didn’t want to force her to eat and procure some hideous meltdown at the eleventh hour!

Laura then messaged me to say that they’d landed early and were already in the terminal, and Cornelia and I set off down the corridor to find them.  We were so happy to see them!  Sofie was carrying a gigantic cuddly dog and Cornelia wrapped her arms around them both as best she could! Sofie had had just five minutes of sleep on the plane as it had landed, so was as tired as Cornelia, but that didn’t stop them from racing around chasing each other.

We found a little play area, but it was pretty unimpressive, so instead we found a bar near a fishpond, so the girls were amused while we ordered Singapore Slings and G&Ts and ate nachos.  The girls joined us again at the table but their tiredness was starting to take over, so Laura gave them some colouring to do and we brought out the Kindle too, to keep them occupied for as long as possible.  Of course, it was now way past their bedtime and something was bound to go wrong sooner or later!

Cornelia and Sofie were playing noughts and crosses on the packet, but managed to have  some sort of an argument about a pen, which left Sofie distraught and angry, and she rushed off.  Laura and Howard weren’t too concerned, thinking she’d just gone off for a quick sulk, but when she hadn’t returned a minute or two later, Laura went off to find her.  She then came back a few minutes later to say she couldn’t locate her, so I jumped up and we set off in opposite directions to track her down.  My blood ran cold as I realised how terrifying and confusing the airport would be to a five year old (remembering how easily I got lost earlier).  I tried thinking like a five year old (not too hard!) and checked the Lego wall first, before wondering if she’d prefer somewhere quiet, like the benches along the windows.  I headed off in that direction, when I saw Laura ahead of me, with Sofie in tow.  Thank God!  Laura said she’d almost fallen asleep underneath one of the barriers, on top of her large dog teddy.  Sofie was very tired and very grumpy and very sad, bless her.  At least she has nice quiet growly tantrums, rather than Cornelia’s epic eardrum-busting ones!

It was time to head off now anyway, so we had final hugs goodbye and with promises to stay in touch and get a visit in the diary, we went our separate ways once again.

We made it back to our terminal without any issues, and once we were through the boarding gate, it was a short wait before we settled into our seats on the plane.  It was, amazingly, only about a half full, which meant that there was plenty of space around.  We had three seats together, but the four seats in the middle of the plane only had one occupant, so Ian said that once we’d taken off, he’d move into the aisle seat there, so that Cornelia could lie out on two seats.  She was very happy to discover that the Lion King was available, and as we had a bit of a wait before we took off, I said she could watch some of it, until we were in the air, then it was sleep time.  She agreed, but it was meaningless – I turned back to her five minutes later and she was sound asleep!

And she stayed that way for eleven and a half hours, only waking briefly to take off her clothes, whilst still half asleep.  It was amazing!  The flight was fourteen hours, and I managed about seven hours too and having taken my contact lenses out and brushed my teeth beforehand, felt quite refreshed by the time I woke up.  What a fabulous final flight!  Now, just the final push to get home…


Our final full day!

25 January 2019

What a fabulous way to end our world adventure! Having been slightly underwhelmed with Phuket to date, any bad feelings disappeared as we spent the day on a boat trip organised by Phuket Sail Tours, under the marvellous supervision of Korn, our wonderful guide for the day.

It was an early start for all of us: up at 06:00 ready for collection at 06:30. I dressed Cornelia while she was still in bed, and she very helpfully lifted herself up in all the right places to assist me, whilst keeping her eyes tightly shut. Once dressed, I reminded her why we were getting up so early – and she remembered that she loves getting up when it’s still dark (which will come in handy when we are home!!), and immediately donned her beautiful bright smile and got out of bed to have her hair and teeth brushed. I carried her down the steep hill and we waited at the bottom for our pick up.

He arrived shortly after 06:30, and on board already were Mike and Dee, a lovely couple from Bristol no less! We chatted amicably with them while our driver braved the rush hour traffic. This is the time all of the workers head off, and we passed truckloads of men and women in blue construction outfits and hats, many of whom were fast asleep on each other. It was already hot and dirty out there!

We arrived at the pier and were invited into their main office where a great breakfast was being prepared. The spiel had said a “light” breakfast but this was far from true! I stuck to my fruit and yoghurt, but Cornelia was given a bowl of chocolate-coated cereal (bleurgh) and some fruit, which she scoffed quite happily.  They were cooking too and there was toast available – really like a small hotel breakfast – and it was all dished up by super friendly staff.

Korn, our tour guide, introduced himself and using a chart on the wall, showed us our route for the day, which would vary depending on how busy certain places were. Ian and I had deliberately chosen Phuket Sail Tours, as they did not take big groups and avoided the mos touristy spots. For example, although we would swing by James Bond Island (of Man with the Golden Gun), we would not go ashore, because it would be so busy. That was completely fine by us!

Shortly after 09:00, we walked down to the jetty and were taxied to the end of it, where we boarded our boat. It was bigger than Ian and I had thought (it carries about twenty passengers but there were only thirteen of us) so we had plenty of room to spread out. We knew Mike and Dee, of course, but the rest of the group we had only seen at breakfast.

The boat had twin 250hp outboards (so Ian told me excitedly…); enough to speed us rapidly across Phang Nga Bay. The boat was quite bouncy and Cornelia enjoyed it very much, but we were glad to be sitting near the stern and in the shade.

Our first stop was Patak Island, where we waded ashore to visit a cave.  Cornelia was quite happy to be carried off the boat, and then walk barefoot over the crunchy shell-y sand, but the rest of us donned sandals of some description to avoid the mega-exfoliation we would have otherwise received!  Somehow, we missed out on the torches and had to rely on the light of ten others as we ducked down low (yes, even I had to duck down once or twice!) and headed through the watery cave (knee-deep for us, but flooded at high tide), emerging into a mangrove lagoon ringed by towering limestone cliffs. The cave was the only access point. Somewhat disconcertingly, Korn stopped halfway through the wet, dark passage to recount the ‘local view’ of the cave rescue of the Thai schoolboys last year, and we spent some considerable time imagining how utterly awful it must have been for them, and what a complete miracle it was that all of the boys and their teacher were safely rescued.

Once in the muddy lagoon, Cornelia was whisked off by Korn to watch a family of long-tailed macaques play, marvel at the mudskippers (amphibious fish) and hunt out some of the thousands of tiny one-clawed crabs scurrying around (one of which Cornelia held).  The scenery was stunning and quite special – it felt as if we had stumbled upon something for the very first time.

We scrambled back through the cave and onto the boat, and sped on to Hong Island, where we boarded an inflatable sea canoe, paddled by a local. Again, the submerged karst scenery was quite beautiful and majestic. Our paddler pointed out different shapes that had formed in the limestone (jellyfish, faces etc), whilst taking us through caves into azure lagoons, where the heart-shaped tree branches hung over us. Although the water was filled with other such canoes, everyone was remarkably quiet and it was quite a peaceful experience.  We jumped out at a small spit of sand, across which the boat was dragged, providing a short-cut back to the tour boat.  Cornelia took advantage of the opportunity to go exploring with Mike, who managed to find a lizard for her, and she sharpened a reed she had found on the oyster-shell-covered rocks.

Once back on the boat, we swung by past Tapu – or James Bond Island. Close enough to take cheesy pictures with a (plastic) golden gun. And to see the teeming mass of tourists ashore.  Not stopping here was definitely a sensible idea!

We were then ferried to Koh Panyee, a Muslim village, and an extraordinary feat of informal construction. The village boasted a marvellous, gold-domed mosque, built on a small piece of land adjacent to the island. Otherwise, all of the hundreds of houses (or shacks), a school, market and restaurants were built on stilts in the shallow sea, providing a home for around 3,000 people. They even have a football pitch, with the local team’s nickname being ‘Pride of the Sea’. After meandering through the village, browsing the numerous souvenir huts casually but, unfortunately, with no intention to buy, we sat at a table in one of the restaurants with great views of the surrounding sea, where we were served a variety of local dishes, plus (luckily) some chips and fried chicken, which Cornelia homed in on.

Our boat was moved around to the side of our restaurant, so we didn’t walk back through the village, instead boarding from the small pontoon.  Off we went again, speeding over the seas, pausing to look at some Lascaux-style cave paintings at another island – apparently several thousand years old although (atypically) Korn didn’t have much to say about them, other than to offer that they were there “before history began”, which must mean they are REALLY old!

Korn enjoyed a little nap on board, as our skipper whizzed us south, and the rocking of the boat was enough to send Bugsy to sleep too.  She had a slightly comfier position, lying on the padded bench with Ian holding her to make sure she didn’t drop off!  She woke up with perfect timing, as we entered a hidden bay where we dived off the boat and enjoyed watching large schools of fish eating bananas thrown from the boat. We tried snorkelling, but the water was too murky, but it was worth having a swim, just to see the fish that close to your face!  Cornelia amazed everyone by jumping off the boat into the sea, although she was soon clinging on to me, slightly nervous of the fish, so I was glad that the watchful Korn had thrown in a life jacket, which Cornelia then used as a float, meaning I was no longer in danger of being drowned by own child….!


We had a further swim at another lagoon, where we also lazed on the small beach for a while.  Cornelia was put off swimming there however, by Ian mentioning “sea lice” again, at which point she screamed to get out of the water, content with just lying on the mat, being chewed by sandflies or something similar, instead!  Meanwhile, Korn sat quietly by himself, and just as I was about to ask him what he was up to, he presented Cornelia with a rose made out of reeds!  She was suitably impressed and grateful, and he secured his position as her favourite person in Thailand.

Shortly after embarking again, Korn pointed out a cave, high on another island, occupied by a licensed collector of birds’ nests. These are sold to the Chinese market for around £3,500 per kilo. They are essentially small shelves, a bit like a half-finished housemarten’s nest, but made primarily from swallow saliva. As with other, unappetising excrescences and appendages (e.g. bear bile and tiger willies) they are thought to have health-giving properties. Fecundity, in particular.  The current occupant (they do shifts) was at home, and gave us a friendly wave from his perch, as we passed by.  We asked Korn what the soup actually tasted like.  He looked around, covered his mouth and whispered “Sperm”.  And we all burst out laughing, grateful that none of us was rich enough to have ever ordered it….!

We had one more stop at a fabulous spit of beach, where Ian took a final dip, while Korn spent almost his entire time on his hands and knees digging into the crab holes, and throwing them out on the sand, making Cornelia shriek with delight.  She increased her animal-touching experiences by prodding a dead jellyfish, but didn’t fancy picking up the larger two-clawed crabs!

And so our wonderful day out on the boat drew to an end.  We were returned to our original starting point, and taxied back to the office, having purchased one of our “official” photographs of the day, which had already been printed and was in a shell frame.  Worth every one of the 200 baht we paid for it!

It was a long drive back to our hotel, due to the heavy traffic and although we had expected to be back by 18:00, as the hour ticked by, I rang EAT to put back our dinner reservation by fifteen minutes.  Even that seemed like it wouldn’t be enough, as the sun started to set… We said our farewells to Mike and Dee who had been such excellent company for the day, and I pegged it up the hill (the driver couldn’t get his vehicle up it – or wouldn’t…!) with Cornelia on my back, did a two minute change of clothes, and raced back down the hill and along the road to EAT, where they were waiting patiently for us.  I was sweating profusely and looked anything ready for a meal, but Cornelia was on good form and made up for my dishevelled appearance!  In the meantime, Ian had been to reception to check us out and organise a taxi to the airport in the morning.  The restaurant staff recognised Cornelia and remembered Cowbat too, so MaiMai entertained her by making Cowbat squeak (and making Cornelia giggle joyfully), and generally looking after her brilliantly.  She had spaghetti bolognese again, Ian had the chateaubriand again, and I opted for the New Zealand lamb.  It was all quite wonderful and delicious, although I’d have preferred my lamb a little pinker.  As it was the last night of our World Adventure, Cornelia was allowed a chocolate ice cream, and I tried the chocolate mousse, which I didn’t like enough to keep for myself, so passed it over to Ian to polish off!

We were done by about 20:00, so it was back up the hill for us (Cornelia on my back again – at least I’m getting some hardcore hillwork in!), and I rinsed the day’s excitement off me and Cornelia.  She was exhausted and fell over while she was being a bit silly, but when she asked Daddy for help getting up, he got disproportionately cross with her and yelled at her that she was four years old and she could pick herself up. I’m afraid I couldn’t help myself and told her that if she fell, I’d pick her up, even if she was 44.  She went to bed without argument, very excited that she only had one more sleep left before we head home and only two sleeps until we see Grannie Annie!

And so, that was the end of our final full day of our world travels.  A day of travelling home awaits us tomorrow…

Lazy bones

24 January 2019

I ended up in bed with poor old Bugsy again, whose temperature went up to just under 103 again at 01:00.  I didn’t want to risk it skyrocketing while I was asleep in the other room.  She was also wide awake, so we lay in bed cuddling and chatting until I gave her another dose of Calpol 45 minutes later, which helped settled her back to sleep.  She woke again at 04:00, having thrown herself  into the air and back onto the bed shouting “NO!”, waking herself up and saying to me “Don’t worry, it was just a dream.” and falling straight back to sleep!  She woke once more at 06:00, before sleeping through until nearly 10:00.  When she finally woke up, her temperature was down to normal, and she even said to me “You don’t need to take my temperature, Mummy, as my body feels completely cool.” What a relief! She was able to breathe properly through her nose, and although she still has a slight chesty cough, it is nowhere near as bad as it has been the last couple of days.

We made it down to breakfast fifteen minutes later, and we scoffed our usual melange of muesli, yoghurt, fruit and muffins, and lazed around at the table a bit, before heading upstairs and lazing around a bit more!  Cornelia wasn’t interested in going to the beach, and just wanted to stay by the pool, so although Ian and I would’ve been quite happy to go, we didn’t feel it necessary to force the issue, and after a couple of wasted hours in the room (I was reading a book on my Kindle and was totally engrossed) and Cornelia was watching her “Arty Galaxy” programme), we set ourselves up on some sun loungers and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the sunshine, and playing in the pool.  Prior to leaving our apartment, Ian was tasked with putting suncream on Bugsy, who was busy dancing and making life difficult.  I won’t post it here, as Facebook would remove my post in its entirety for child nudity, but I have a very funny video of her dancing happily while Daddy is not looking so cheerful and trying to dab her with cream!

Cornelia was full of energy, and we were happy for her to exhaust herself, so she’d sleep well tonight, as we were booking ourselves onto a boat trip for tomorrow, which required an early start.  She went straight into the pool with Ian and spent ages climbing the steps to the higher pool, then jumping off the wall into the lower pool.  I was quite impressed with her bravery and confidence, as it was quite a high jump!

I wasn’t in the mood for any lunch, but Ian said he could manage something and thought that Cornelia should have more than a yoghurt (my suggestion) to keep her going, so at about 14:30, we heaved ourselves the five metres from our loungers to the restaurant table and while Cornelia had a grilled cheese sandwich and Ian had his tuna sandwich, I chomped on Bugsy’s chips and enjoyed a nice cold Diet Coke.  Neither Ian nor I enjoy just lying around, but we seem to have adjusted quite well to it over the last two enforced days of R&R!

Straight after lunch, Cornelia wanted to go back in the pool so I took her in, and we played ball for a while until some mean Russian woman just decided to take it and play with her son instead (yes, really!!!).  (Cornelia had been jumping into the water from the top pool and I was throwing the ball for her to catch on the way down (unsuccessfully, I might add).  Of course, each time she missed, the ball would float off a bit, so once I knew that Cornelia was back in her depth, I swam off to retrieve it, which was only a couple of metres away each time.  This woman had been in the pool, right next to where we were playing, and her son was in the top pool.  Once Cornelia had jumped in and I’d helped her to the shallower water, I saw the woman swim towards the ball.  I just assumed that she was getting it to pass to me, so didn’t bother going for it myself… and she just picked it up, called for her son, and then started playing catch with him!  I couldn’t believe it! The bloody cheek of it!  Anyway, Cornelia was about to get upset, so I had to explain to her that it was a communal ball, meaning that anyone could play with it, but that I thought it was not a very nice way to behave, and if she had done it, I would be quite cross with her, and that other people just weren’t as nice as us.  I offered to get her bucket and spade for her to play with instead, but she was happy to carry on jumping in, and we practiced some underwater back somersaults too, before surfing back to Daddy on the other side of the pool.

We all lay on our loungers drying off (Bugsy in the shade, Ian and I in the sun!) until about 16:30 when we decided to head back upstairs and shower, ready for an early supper and bed. 

I decided to try and get a quick run in, and after some initial procrastination, set off for twenty minutes – a short run down to the seafront and along the pavement bordering the beach, before turning around and sweating my way back.  I even managed to run up the ridiculously steep hill, although I had to stop once and catch my breath.

I was disgustingly sweaty by the time I’d finished my run, and immediately took a cold shower, to try and cool myself down. I had fifteen minutes to shower, dress and be in reception for the 18:00 shuttle bus, but the shower did little to help, and my dress stuck to me immediately! Ah well, at least we weren’t going anywhere smart for supper!!  I met Ian at reception, as he was already there arranging our check out for tomorrow evening as well as booking a taxi to the airport for Saturday morning.  We weren’t due to be back from the boat until 18:00, and with supper booked for 18:15 at EAT again, we had fifteen minutes to change, check out and walk down the hill.  It turned out that Mattia, the actual manager, as opposed to the chap who had emailed me on Tuesday during LaundryGate calling himself the General Manager, was very helpful, and told Ian that if reception was closed by the time we had finished supper, Ian could call him on his mobile and he would come to our room to check us out personally and return our £80 cash deposit.  I get the feeling that if I had made the approach, I would’ve just been told it was tough and if I wanted my £80, I’d have to be in reception during opening hours!

Anyway Tan, our cheery shuttle bus driver, agreed to drop us off at Red Chopsticks again, where we had another good table overlooking the mayhem of the road below us.  I’m afraid to say that I enjoyed my Thai chicken curry so much the first time we were here, that I ordered it again, and I wasn’t disappointed! 

We had enough time after our meal to stop off at the mini mart for a couple of bottles of water, and withdraw enough cash to pay for our boat trip tomorrow morning (they only accept cash payments!), before plodding back to the Island View Hotel pick up point, where Cornelia was delighted to find her new friend, Emma, was also waiting for the shuttle with her family.

We sang some songs on the bus home and said our goodnights, before heading to our respective apartments.  Cornelia had a bit of a paddy about Daddy brushing her teeth, rather than Mummy, but I stayed out of it and they managed to resolve it without intervention. ;o) I went in for her bedtime stories, and we both said goodnight, before leaving the room with her agreement that she wouldn’t call out.  Hmmmm. Within five minutes, she was calling out for either of us, and once we’d established that nothing was wrong with her, we told her that we weren’t coming back in now, and she needed to sleep so that she would have lots of energy for tomorrow.

Back in the living room, Ian and I suddenly heard a loud noise and it sounded like heavy rain.  And sure enough, it was a torrential downpour.  We were very glad we weren’t stuck in town, and having to walk back to the pick up stop in the rain (although, to be fair, I looked as if I’d been in the rain anyway!).  In the meantime, Cornelia was still calling out variously for me and Ian, saying she needed a song to help her sleep, amongst other distractions.  She is currently chattering away to herself and it’s just gone 21:00.  That child!!  We need her to go to sleep, so she isn’t beastly tomorrow!  We shall see what happens!


The not much day!

23 January 2019

Gosh, that was a fretful night. I slept in with Cornelia so I could monitor her and her temperature overnight, measuring it every couple of hours. It rose to 104.6 (40.3) at 04:00, really making me worried. After discussion with Ian, I woke her to give her another dose of Calpol, and although she said her tummy hurt, and spent ten minutes blowing her nose, she fell back to sleep, waking briefly at 06:00-ish and again at 08:45. I took her temperature again at 08:15 and it had gone down slightly to 102. Whenever Cornelia has had a fever before, it has only lasted 24 hours and she’s bounced back very quickly, so I am hopeful that the ferocity of this fever is a good sign that her body is fighting whatever it is fiercely!

Ian and I think that she probably has a nasty cold, given the constant nose-blowing and coughing, but we are also mindful that we have been in areas where dengue fever can be passed on by mosquitoes (and she’d received half a dozen bites on her upper body that last night in Siem Reap, having escaped any all year!) and the zika virus is prevalent. She was being gorgeous, in between nose blows, and as I gave her a fresh tissue saying “Just in case you need it”, she said, “Thank you, Mummy, you’ve thought of everything!” 🥰

I was also concerned about other germs that may have amassed on her Gang members, three of whom she chomps on at night.  I washed Molly and Cowbat, then sterilised them both and hung them out to dry.  I need to get Cowding away from her at some point too!

Ian went down for breakfast, but Cornelia didn’t want to go, so he brought up the other plates for me and Bugsy to share. Despite her fever, she was in a particularly cheery mood and once again, but for the thermometer and physical heat of her body, you’d never know she was unwell!

As you can imagine, it was a bit of a boring morning!  She watched a new programme on her Kindle, called Arty Galaxy, and while Ian went to pool for an hour, I read a book and occasionally wiped Cornelia’s nose!  Just after Ian had left for the pool, the cleaners came, for the first time in the three nights we’d been there!  Apparently, it’s not actually an hotel, it’s a residence, and the service is not that of an hotel.  We had already run out of loo roll and had to buy some of our own, and empty the bins.  All in all, I was not loving this last part of our trip that was supposed to be complete luxury, before Ian has to go back to work.  Anyway, we had fresh towels, fresh sheets, more loo roll at last!

Ian came back after his hour at the pool, and then it was my turn. I just lay there for an hour, turning over every fifteen minutes to ensure an even tan…!  Just as I looked up to our balcony,  Bugsy called out to me and her and Ian came down for lunch at the poolside tables.  Her temperature was hovering around 101, so once she’d eaten her cheese toastie, she was allowed some pool time again.

She made a new friend in the pool – Emma from Mongolia – who spoke very good English for her age, and we just threw a ball around together for an hour before she left to go upstairs with her family.  Cornelia had had enough too so I dried her off and we all went back up to our room. Bugsy watched yet more of her Kindle while Ian went off for water and beer, and then I showered with her before it was Ian’s turn to get clean!

Cornelia was feeling energised, so we walked down the hill to EAT, a restaurant that had really excellent reviews.  We hadn’t booked, so the host told us that as long as we could eat our meal in the next hour and fifteen minutes, we could have a table!  Done!  The atmosphere was great, and the staff went out of their way to make Cornelia laugh.  Ian and I both had the chateaubriand that our Swedish host recommended (the beef is imported from Australia), and it was absolute perfection.  Just so, so tasty!

Mid-meal Cornelia decided she needed the loo, and found it hilarious that there was a “No Diving” sign in the bathroom.  She chuckled away to the joke and told the waiters how funny she found it, which just delighted them even more.  Stupidly, I agreed to her request for a chocolate ice cream again, which they gave to her served with chocolate sauce and extra sticks of chocolate.   Uh oh!

It was a terrific evening, despite having to leave on time (we would happily have stayed for longer!), I felt very full as I trudged up the ridiculous hill with a tired toddler on my back!  At bedtime, she asked for three stories which Ian read, then I cuddled her for a bit before leaving her to sleep.  Then she started calling out for me, so Ian went in twice, before she finally went quiet.  We went to bed ourselves at 21:45, as I was especially tired from last night, but she called out for me twice, and the second time, I stayed in with her as temperature was starting to go up again. I was very much hoping that we would have more sleep than last night, but I think that when you are a parent and your child is unwell, it is very difficult to have a deep sleep!

The heat is on…

22 January 2019

When Bugsy woke up, she said that she didn’t feel very well, and as her skin felt quite hot, I took her temperature. It was 101.7. Uh oh. I gave her a small dose of Calpol, and as she was otherwise in perfectly good spirits, she got up and asked if she could do some drawing before breakfast. She drew a magnificent wicked queen complete with cauldron and poisoned apple, a la Snow White. Next was the same witch holding a poisoned comb, this time with a cauldron filled with (very specifically) jellyfish blood, a puff of blue smoke, melted banana, some green poison, and five scoops of ordinary orange powder to make it all sparkle. Then “a teensy bit of squeezed juice from an old apple, and finally the pink from a rainbow”.  Hopefully her inspiration wasn’t from our cookery class in Vietnam…!

We went down to breakfast which made us despair… There are only two options for breakfast: European and American. We ordered two Europeans, with one cappuccino and one English Breakfast tea. 50% of that order was wrong! 🙄 Anyway, she was very sweet about it and rapidly replaced the incorrect meal and drink, and we shared our muffins and fruit with Bugsy, who seemed well enough to eat everything she was given!

While Cornelia rested upstairs with me, Ian went for a walk to get more water and continue his hunt for tea bags, which have so far eluded us! I haven’t been this tea-less all trip! He returned pouring with sweat, with plenty of water… but still no tea bags. He had visited two mini marts and couldn’t find them anywhere.  I shared a bag of crisps between him and Cornelia, so he could get his sodium levels back up and, as she wasn’t in the mood for lunch, she also had a yoghurt.  She lay on the sofa watching TV for the rest of the morning (cartoons in Thai, mostly!) and Ian went out again to collect the laundry.

Ah, the laundry…

He went down to reception to collect the laundry that had been promised last night, but that we agreed with the staff we would collect in the morning.  Imagine my surprise when he came back empty-handed, saying that he had been told he was wrong and that it wouldn’t be ready until today at 17:00.  I stomped off down that, fuelled by frustration and lack of sleep.  The following conversation ensued:

Hi, my husband’s just been down to collect our laundry that was ready last night and has been told he can’t collect it until this evening.  

Yes, that’s right.

But when we came down last night at 6 o’clock, we were told it was ready, and in fact, one of your guys was just about to go and collect it for us, when we said that we would pick it up this morning instead, as we were just going out for dinner and didn’t want to hold up the shuttle bus. 


Yes, that’s exactly what we were told.  He was even getting on his moped to collect it before we stopped him!

No.  You have misunderstood. 

No.  I have not misunderstood.  I want to be perfectly clear about this.  If we had had to wait 48 hours for laundry which was costing us twice as much to take twice as long, we would have taken it ourselves.  That was the conversation we had yesterday and that was what was agreed.

No,  you are wrong.  It won’t be ready until 5 o’clock tonight.

That is completely unacceptable to us and completely outrageous.  I am very cross about this indeed.

I stomped off, absolutely livid, but before I composed my email to the manager to complain , I needed to check on Bugsy.  At 13:00, her temperature had dropped to 100.3 and as she was desperate to go to the pool, we agreed that she could have an hour there. She played very happily in the pool and you wouldn’t have known she had a fever! We kept to our hour, before returning to our room, where I pinged off my email to the manager about the laundry problem, explaining that in the 40 countries that we’ve now visited, this is the only time I’ve felt the need to complain and that the attitude of the staff member I spoke to was totally unacceptable, not least because he was wrong and I had not misunderstood the situation.

Around 15:00, her temperature went up again to 102.9, so I gave her a larger dose of Calpol, and she rested on the sofa, watching some of her Kindle episodes, while I tried not to storm down to reception in a blaze of fury.  Here is an extract…

we apologize that you had some Difficulty Dealing with a Real Language Barrier with our Thai Stuff Team, in order to get a better understanding while traveling in Thailand I would recommend you to Talk slower, not louder. Speak clearly, not forcefully. People of a different language and culture can hear fine. regarding the Laundry service let me remind you that we coordinate with External laundry service to provide this Service for our guest. there was a huge delay with the laundry order unfortunately we apologize about this unexpected event 

So, just to be clear once again…. it WAS expected the previous day, it’s just that there was a huge delay on this occasion, and I had not in fact misunderstood a single bloody thing…  I was NOT appeased in any way by this response, and had Ian not persuaded me to just leave it, I would probably have packed up and booked us another hotel for the last few days.  I then became quite upset that this last part of our amazing adventure was being marred by an irritating argument, where I was being accused of failing to adapt to and respect a different culture, which is quite the opposite of how I see myself!  In my view (of course!), it was, in fact, one crappy member of staff not understanding how to deal with a pissed off guest!  The silver lining to the cloud was that we didn’t have to pay for our laundry, but that still meant we were all without pants for the day…!

Ian managed to soothe my mood, and once I’d recovered myself, I went to check on Bugsy, who was then fast asleep on the sofa.  Now, that was as shame, as we’d just ordered Italian to be delivered and it was about to arrive!  But she stayed fast asleep and so Ian and I ate our food (very nice, simple pasta) and drank some beer, waiting for her to wake up again.

I’d added a Tiramisu to the order which I was meant to share with Ian, but it was so yummy, and Ian was “waiting until later” to eat his portion, by which time, his half was more like a small quarter…!  🐷

I took advantage of Cornelia’s epic sleep on the sofa, by watching Suits and uploading the thousand photos from Angkor Wat onto the blog.  Unfortunately, the wifi here is pretty slow, so it took a very long time, and there were so many beautiful shots, it was very difficult to choose which ones to exclude!  Cornelia finally woke up at 21:30, but the sleep hadn’t done her temperature any good, as it was now to 103.9.  She had another big dose of Calpol, but was feeling quite good in herself.  She ate some of her penne pasta then just went back to the sofa, where we read some books to her until 22:45 when we went to bed.  She kept burping and I was on permanent alert that she might be sick, but thankfully that never happened.  She also had a small rash on the back of her neck, that we hoped was either a touch of sunburn or a mark from where her hair bobble had rubbed the nape, but we read up on dengue fever, zika virus etc and put our medical insurance by the door with a packed bag, just in case of a nighttime emergency!

I also decided to stay in with Cornelia, hoping she would have a good deep recovery sleep, and just in case things deteriorated during the night.

It’s my birthday!

20 January 2019

It was another early start for us, and when the alarm went off at 05:00, I got up and dressed while Ian had a quick shower. But before that, Ian passed me a birthday card from him, which he’d managed to buy last night, after quite a search apparently. 🤗

I had packed up everything last night, so went about finishing up the last few bits and pieces, before waking Cornelia. She took a few minutes to come round, but let me dress her whilst she was in bed and I managed to roll her out and up surprisingly easily, once I’d reminded her that it was my birthday.

Ian’s watch was wrong, and he didn’t realise that time was ticking away. I was trying not to be grumpy tired, so didn’t tell him to get a bloody move on, eventually saying “We’ve only got thirty seconds before our driver arrives, so we really need to get a move on!” in my best not-nagging voice. His reply was that we still had ten minutes… er, we did NOT! His watch had stopped again, so he’d thought he’d been doing brilliantly getting ready etc but, in fact, he was now late!

I took Cornelia downstairs with me to reception so that we could check out, only to find it in complete darkness.  I could see two members of staff asleep on the benches in the lobby, with small blankets pulled over them.  I felt bad for disturbing them, but coughed loudly, and you should have seen the speed at which the first guy jumped up!  He charged behind reception as if he hadn’t really been asleep at all.  It was hilarious!  He knew we were checking out, and went to shake his colleague awake, as our driver walked in.  The other guy took a bit longer to wake up and looked quite dazed for a few minutes.  While he went to get our bags, we tried settling our bill.  They had incorrectly charged us for a second room – our room was 606 but, confusingly, that incorporated rooms 607 & 608 within it.  Anyway, a manager turned up, she switched on the main lights (no-one else had yet thought to do this!) and sorted it all out.  They were very friendly and good-humoured, once they’d realised their mistake, but the delay set us back twenty minutes.

On the way out, I grabbed our three breakfast boxes that we’d ordered, to eat at the airport a bit later.  Cornelia was being brilliant – getting up at the crack of dawn seems to suit her!  Our taxi driver had already been paid, so we didn’t incur an extra charge for the delay, and we gave him a decent tip to thank him when we arrived.

There was already a queue to check in at Siem Reap airport, but we waited patiently and soon it was our turn.  For this flight to Phuket, I’d been able to buy an extra ten kilos of luggage allowance, so we knew we wouldn’t incur an additional charge, and we waved goodbye to our bags once more, before finding a bench on which we could sit and eat our breakfast.  It was a generous meal!  A raisin pastry and a roll with butter and jam, two boiled eggs and some bacon, and three pieces of fruit.  My stomach was still feeling tender from yesterday, so I just had a bit of fruit, and once Ian and Cornelia had eaten what they wanted, I offered the remainder to the guy in charge of the luggage wrapping facility, who accepted it happily and thanked me.

Once we were through security, Ian went to buy a coffee for him and a cup of tea for me, and Cornelia had a bit of time on her Kindle.  This attracted the attention of a small Russian boy, who was on holiday with his parents and grandparents.  He came over and settled himself down next to Cornelia with his grandmother, and all was well until his mum came over and dragged him off, for no good reason that I could see!  The poor kid burst into tears and then everyone started yelling at him for making a noise.  Cornelia looked quite bemused at it all, before returning to watching Paw Patrol.

Our flight boarded very early, and in fact, it was ready to take off about ten minutes ahead of schedule.  It was an Air Asia flight and it was very cramped – probably the least amount of leg room we’ve had on any flight to date.  The guy in front of Ian put his seat all the way back, so he had even less room, but thankfully, the flight was less than two hours, and he had enough room to read his book (just about)!

The personnel at the airport were all friendly enough, and we were quickly through immigration and passport control (we didn’t need a visa for entry to Thailand) but the taxi kiosk staff and drivers were all quite surly and brusque – far from the legendary warmth of the Thai people generally. Our driver was a large chap, who smoked over us while we lifted our bags into the boot of his car, and seemingly, rather blind. He had to bring the docket, bearing our hotel destination details, right up to his eyes to read it. Gulp…!

He did try to be friendly, despite our language barrier, but then annoyed us again by pulling over at some tour company office, where a woman tried to get us out of the car to go for a drink and undoubtedly book a tour with them. We declined and said we would wait in the car for our driver to finish his cigarette, and that we just wanted to get to our hotel. It is difficult not to be rude, and we understand from Google searches that this is quite normal, but once we’d made clear our intention to stay in the car, our driver took the liberty of making us wait another ten minutes before heading off. We were grateful to largely have escaped this sort of irritating nonsense so far! Typical that country #40 would be the one!!  Cornelia was glued to her Kindle, and had taken the luggage labels off and wrapped them around her legs and arms, and told me she was now a fashion designer.  Obviously, the Mercedes programme we’d watched in the hotel restaurant had made an impression!

We arrived at Karon Butterfly Residence after about an hour of driving and checked in.  We were shown to our room – a spacious two-bedroomed apartment with a little kitchen, and a living area.  It overlooks the lovely pool, and we were looking forward to our stay.

As we were unpacking, Cornelia set up a “fairground” in the bedroom, with pillow dodgems, the ceiling fan as a carousel, a spooky house behind the curtains, and a pirate ship (a rolled up towel).  I love that she’s put all the time we’ve spent at adventure parks to creative use.  While I was in our bedroom, Daddy took her off to write my surprise birthday card.  She kept popping her little head around the bedroom door saying “Stay in here, Mummy, we are just doing something to the fairground rides for you…!” and then giggling and running out.  Eventually, she came in brandishing a card saying “Here’s your birthday card, Mummy! That was the surprise!!” And she’d written it all herself, refusing any help from Daddy. 🥰


We had a late lunch at the hotel restaurant, sitting outside in the shade by the pool.  It is very hot and humid here!  I wasn’t massively hungry, so had an omelette, and Bugsy had a cheese toastie with chips – she said it was really delicious and even ate the crusts!  Small victories…!  Back upstairs, Cornelia fell asleep, so I took advantage of some parent- free time to book a much needed wax at a salon down the road for 16:00.  I left the apartment at about 15:30, to make sure I arrived in time.  Walking along the busy road felt a bit dangerous – there are no pavements or even a hard shoulder of sorts, so you are literally walking with the traffic very close to you.  I suspect it’ll become second nature quickly, but I walked faster than I normally would and, coupled with the humidity, was quite sweaty by the time I arrived!  Pin runs her own salon and was quite lovely and friendly.  We had a good chat while she fulfilled my request… and let’s just say she was certainly very thorough! 😳


I popped into Makro on the way back to the hotel, to get some basic supplies: milk, beer, teabags, some crisps and fruit.  There were no teabags, but I did find some piggy ear biscuits!  When I got to the checkout, I could see the girl thinking “Bloody tourists!” as she patiently explained that you couldn’t buy beer until 17:00.  I returned the beer to the shelves as quickly as possible, only to find out on my return to the check out desk that I hadn’t weighed the oranges either. D’oh!  The queue behind me was building, so I handed back the oranges, paid up and left, feeling very touristy indeed – for the first time for ages on this world adventure!


Back in the apartment, Bugsy was still asleep on the sofa so we let her stay there, in the hope that we could stay up a bit later this evening.  Ian had decided to shave off his beard, so that he didn’t return home with a big white patch when he went back to work!  I asked him to keep it for just one more day, but offered to trim it for him, which I did in the shower.  It created a ridiculous amount of hair, which I rearranged into a nice face much to Bugsy’s great delight, when she finally woke up.  She chuckled and said to me, “This has been my favourite birthday with you so far. I love you, Mummy.” And with that, she put her sweet little hands on my cheeks and drew me in for a kiss. 🥰

Then I did something really silly… I put our passports and my jewellery box into the safe, and closed it, using our usual code.  The door locked and I tested it, just to make sure it was all working okay.  It was not.  I had stupidly not read the instructions (which were hidden under a towel I’d put down when unpacking the cases earlier) and the safe was well and truly locked with our stuff inside.  Argh!  I felt like such an idiot!  We have done so well all trip not to get caught out by stuff like this.  Honestly, I was so embarrassed, that I had to get Ian ask at reception to see if they could sort it out! Amazingly, they could – the block at the front of the safe can be opened, and a master key opens the safe.  Phew!  She showed us how to set the lock properly (overly-complicated, frankly…!) and all was well.  Ah, I was so relieved!


Now that she was awake, we all went down to the pool for a late afternoon swim, and while Ian and Bugsy played in the water, I relaxed in the evening sun with a can of gin & grapefruit.  Classy, eh?!  We had an hour or so there, before heading back upstairs to shower and dress for dinner (once I’d cleaned up the hair!).  We were running much later than planned, but Cornelia was on good form and her afternoon sleep seemed to have done her the world of good.  The friendly driver of the little shuttle bus that takes you down to the main drag of restaurants and shops recommended Red Chopsticks to us, and kindly dropped us off right outside.


The hostess warned us that there may be a five or ten minute wait, but that was fine by us, as we didn’t know where else we would go!  As it happened, before she’d even finished her sentence, she saw some guests leaving, so said she would have that table cleared for us asap.  It was a great spot, right by the road, so we could see the hustle and bustle of the traffic and passers-by.  I must confess… we had thought this area was a bit more upmarket than it is.  It is filled with large tattooed Russians, and it all feels a bit sleazy – exactly what we were hoping to avoid.  But the restaurant was terrific, and they had a decent kids’ menu for Cornelia, who went for fish fingers and chips.  I had the Thai red curry and Ian opted for the massaman curry.  Mine was superb – just the right amount of heat to make my face sweat!

After our meal, we walked down to the seafront to the entrance of the Island View Hotel, from where we could catch the shuttle back to our apartment.  The bus was full this time (it was the last one of the evening at 21:30, but I think they normally run later… it is just that today is a Sunday), and the driver said that some of the passengers would need to get off at the bottom of the steep hill that leads up to our apartment.  Ian hopped out, along with a couple of the other guys, and Cornelia and I were whisked up to the reception, from where we walked back to our room.  Then I realised that Ian had the key.  D’oh!  Anyway, we sat quietly and waited for him to arrive, which he did a few minutes later (I was just happy that I hadn’t lost the key!).

The two hour sleep Bugsy had earlier meant that she would now NOT go to sleep!  She was wide awake and kept calling out for me for cuddles, not falling asleep until nearly midnight, by which time Ian and I were exhausted too!  But what a fabulous birthday in two countries it’s been!

Angkor Wat temples

19 January 2019

The alarm went off at 04:00 and, amazingly, both Ian and I had no problem getting up and sorting ourselves out.  I had a quick cup of tea, and put some Deet on in the shower (mosquitoes were likely to be a problem today), before I woke Cornelia using a similar magic spell that we’d agreed on yesterday, and as she was waking, I managed to get her clothes on.  So far, so good!

We were out of our room and downstairs on time for our collection by Xhi Vaht, our tour guide from Angkor Cycling Tours, at 04:40.  I asked him what time he’d had to be up… 03:00 was his answer!  I hope they are paying him well!

The streets were very quiet to start with, and Bugsy was in a remarkably chatty good mood despite being tired.  Xhi explained that we were going to drive to Angkor National Park first to buy our temple passes, then we would drive to Angkor Wat temple and park up, before walking to the West Gate and watching the sun rise from behind the temple.  The streets grew much busier as hundreds of people headed towards Angkor Wat, and we were in the queue by 04:55.  It didn’t take long to buy our one day photo pass (Cornelia was free), and Xhi had lanyards for the paper passes so that they didn’t get damaged. (If you are found to have a damaged pass, it would be deemed invalid, and you’d have to buy another one.)

We drove on to the temple car park, then followed Xhi through the crowds of people, as he led us all the way to the moat surrounding the temple.  It was about 05:30 by the time we arrived, and we were by no means the first people there! The crowds were already two deep from the edge of the moat, and we were lucky to find a spot we could squeeze into, from where Cornelia could see.  Which was not much to start with!  It was still completely dark, and all you could really see were the lights from everyone’s mobile ‘phones.  Then gradually, the light began to come from behind the silhouette of Angor Wat.  It was slow but worth every second of the wait, as the sky changed colours, starting from a dull deep orange and purple, into a bright explosion of fire, then finally the pinks and purples that would turn into a bright blue sky as the day progressed. It was really quite special, despite the company surrounding us!

Venus and Jupiter twinkling away!

Panorama of Angkor Wat and its visitors!

Cornelia was brilliant.  She was looking for stars and planets, and was very excited to see Venus and Jupiter so close together.  We then opened up my “star” app, and started looking for other planets and constellations, which occupied her for almost the whole time.  Far more interesting for a four year old than looking at the sky change colour, that’s for sure!

Once I had had my fill of taking photographs and just staring peacefully at the unbelievable scene in front of me, Xhi took us off for breakfast at one of the cafes 100 or so metres away.  Ian and I both had coffee with condensed milk (condensed milk is VERY popular here) and Bugsy had a hot chocolate.  Then we all ordered pancakes: pineapple for me; banana for Ian; and yes, chocolate for Cornelia.  The set up is great for the local traders.  They basically all serve the same sort of dishes and charge the same price, and all of the tables are lined up in rows, with a small kitchen at the end of each row.  Then, you are brought a menu from the kitchen of whichever row you happen to be sitting in!  As we ate, small kids did the rounds, selling postcards and magnets.  Naturally, I bought an Angkor Wat magnet for our ever-growing collection, but resisted all other offerings.

Unfortunately, as I don’t really eat massive pancakes or drink coffee at breakfast, I started to feel quite unwell almost as soon as we left the cafe.  Xhi took us into the temple and we followed the flow of people, as he gave us some details about Angkor Wat.  Originally built as a Hindu temple to the god Vishnu in the 12th Century, it was converted into a Buddhist place of worship in the 14th Century. Although the statues of Buddha have been destroyed or removed over the years, the many depictions of various Hindu symbolic iconography remain.

Inside the main temple, we explored the four now-empty pools representing the four elements of Fire, Water, Earth and Wind.  It felt slightly awkward being part of the growing mass of tourism movement whilst orange-clad Buddhist monks venerated various niches in the temple; and equally, there were clearly devotees of Vishnu trying to block out the crowds and engaging in worship.  Apparently, over the last twenty years, the number of tourists has increased from less than 20,000 annually to now over 2 million.  These tourists have also caused the steep steps at the centre of the temple to be closed.  The steps are incredibly steep and there had been so many injuries as a result of falls, that a new staircase was built to allow the tourists to reach the top.  The significance of this particular part of the temple was that only the king and priests were allowed there – it symbolised the stairway to heaven, and as the highest point, only the select few were able to climb the staircase.  Xhi also told us that when people climbed the staircase (at the invitation of the king), if they fell off, it meant that they had bad souls, and conversely, if they made it to the top, they were good.  Ian observed that maybe that was why so many tourists had fallen….!

Obviously, Ian and I skipped our way to the top…! Cornelia, however, was not old enough to make the climb, and sat chatting to Xhi in the shade, as we took in the spectacular views, admired the magnificent carvings and strained our eyes for a glimpse of the “big Buddha”, who was set far back and protected by a fence.  But it was all slightly marred by the fact that I now desperately needed the loo!  I felt in danger of fainting or throwing up, as a hot flush engulfed me and my tummy cramped up.  I grabbed Ian as subtly as I could and growled “We have to go… now!” whilst managing to smile at everyone around me.

Xhi, bless him, insisted on telling us more about the history of various parts of the temple, but by now, my concentration had completely vanished.  As soon as I realised that we were about to leave the temple, I casually asked Xhi if there was a bathroom around.  He said “Oh, don’t worry, there are nice government ones at the next temple, which we are going to cycle to now!”.  At this point, I looked at him and just said “Actually, is there one I can just use now?!”  I think he realised my predicament, and took me off to the loo.  Typically, it was locked.  So, he went off to find the key holder.  In the meantime, just as I was considering ripping the lock off, a policeman came past.  I gestured towards the toilet block and he said “No, no, the government toilets at the next temple are better!”  Bloody hell, GIVE ME THE KEY!  He then said that the keyholder was somewhere in the temple.  I nearly cried.  I followed the policeman back around the corner and saw Xhi in the distance.  I waved at him (so far as I could stand up straight to wave, that is) and like a god, a grumpy man appeared with a key.

Why they needed to lock a hole in the ground is beyond me…! I shan’t give any details, but let’s just say, there was a porcelain hole and a large trough of water with a saucepan floating on top.  I’m glad I have strong legs.  And let’s just leave that story there…!

Reunited with Ian and Cornelia (who had found a tube of bamboo and was busy creating some lovely music!), we began our quest to get the helmets on.  We were, to say the least, slightly frustrated by them, as they were completely knackered.  Ian couldn’t get his on his head, and mine had a broken strap.  Cornelia’s was also ill-fitting, and as we knew the route we were taking was quite “bumpy” in parts, weren’t happy to spend the day with helmets that wouldn’t do their job in the event of an accident.  Xhi rang his company and they arranged to supply new helmets at the next temple, so finally, with Cornelia all strapped in to her child seat, off we went.

We had a terrific ride along tracks north of Angkor Wat, taking us to the ancient city of Angkor Thom, where we rode up onto the 7 metre high walls, after crossing an amazing bridge over the moat, lined with (on one side) 54 gods and, on the other, 54 demons, each holding their own multi-headed snake.

This ride took us mercifully away from the crowds and we enjoyed the route through a local village.  Only families living there prior to UNESCO World Heritage status, granted 27 years ago, are allowed to remain in their traditional homes.  No more houses may be built.  On the outskirts of the village was an elephant enclosure, containing fifteen of the beasts.  It was sad seeing them chained up (so they didn’t escape) – they are now only used for the tourist industry, rather than in their historic role as beasts of burden.

At the centre of Angkor Thom is Bayon, another extraordinary temple.  Cornelia was already feeling a bit “templed out”, so I offered to stay with her in the shade, while Ian and Xhi walked around.  By now, it was mid thirties and very humid.  We whiled away our time making funny faces at each other, before Cornelia spied another little girl, with her extended family, who were sitting behind us.  I said she could go and play with her if she wanted, and off she went to say hi.  It was my fault… I’d completely forgotten how popular Cornelia’s blonde hair is, outside of Europe and the States!  The family surrounded her, touching and grabbing her arm for photos with their daughter.  Cornelia did her best to smile, but was looking quite overwhelmed and eventually escaped to bury her head in my lap!  Then her little friend fell over and hurt herself, so Cornelia (bless her) went over to help her up.  This resulted in the family holding her to pose for more photos with their sobbing child!  Cornelia kept looking over at me, desperate for help, so I called her over, just as Ian and Xhi came towards us, having completed their navigation of Bayon.  She raced towards us, and burst into tears.  It was just all a bit too much for her.  The family still crowded around her, so I lifted her up and carried her back to the bikes, smiling and waving through my slightly gritted teeth.

Although Ian was glad he’d looked around Bayon, he’d been unable to take many photos, as the whole place was just packed with people, all jostling to take photos at the same spots. The walls captured historical every day moments, such as crocodiles, cock-fighting, pig-fighting, gambling, cookery and hunting, as well as depictions of Khmer stereotyping of various races with whom they were in conflict.

We cruised on for a short distance, before stopping for lunch.  The set up was similar to that at breakfast – a cluster of tables and kitchens – and Xhi (who knew the staff at this particular one) sourced drinks for us, while we browsed the menu.  Cornelia had some scrambled eggs with a baguette, Ian tried the lok lak again, and I had a chicken and mango salad, despite still not feeling brilliant.  I went off to visit the government bathrooms that had come so highly recommended, and when I returned, everyone was ready to go – complete with new, much-improved helmets!

Experiencing road cycling in Cambodia for the first time, we headed a little further east for a while, before dodging off the road and back onto the quiet tracks, that once again led to the most incredible smaller temples.  They were all built without any kind of mortar to stick the blocks together, so inevitably over time, many of the walls, roofs and doorways have collapsed.  In the main temples, these have been reconstructed, but the smaller ones remain in their natural state, complete with tree roots growing over the masonry.  It is quite surreal – think Indiana Jones meets Tomb Raider!  Even more surreal was the appearance of several runners who, it transpired, were participating in the Angkor Wat ultra marathon / marathon which was taking place this weekend.  I cannot believe that this race was on and I hadn’t realised!  I would have LOVED to have done it, and it is now most definitely on my list of races.  What an epic run that would be!

Cornelia fell asleep in her child seat for about half an hour, as we cycled on through the heat, visiting more relics and our final temple, Ta Prohm, riddled with the giant silk-cotton trees.  Bugsy was now awake, and we strolled through together, but to be honest, we were all now a little temple-weary, and the hordes of people lining up for photos meant that you couldn’t really walk around freely.  Xhi wanted to take a couple of photos for us, which was sweet of him, and I’m glad he did as it preserves our place in history.  Unless the authorities do something to control access to the temples, we can see it all being ground down over the coming years.  And yes, we contributed to that today, I know!

Xhi was completely charming all day, and his knowledge of the area was extensive.  We followed him back along the busy main road (genuinely a fun experience!), stopping only to feed the monkeys some leftover pancake that I’d been carrying around all day.  It turns out, they don’t like pancakes, but Xhi kindly offered up his banana which was snatched right out of his hands and devoured by a pregnant monkey halfway up a tree!

Back in the saddle, we had one final push back to the bike shop, where we were refreshed with cold wet wipes and icy water.  Heavenly!  We had been hoping to buy the blue Angkor Cycling Tours jersey that Xhi had been wearing, but they only had the short-sleeved version in Ian’s size in yellow… So, that’s what he got!

We clambered into our first tuk tuk of the trip, and for $US1, were ferried back to our hotel, at around 16:00.  Half an hour later, Cornelia and Ian were in the pool, while I relaxed on the lounger.  Cornelia got into trouble when, for the second time, she spat water out at Ian (like a spout, as opposed to maliciously, I think), so Ian moved into the warmer jacuzzi tub, adjoining the main pool.  She decided to get in too, but then of course, she didn’t want to get back into the colder water.  It was the perfect way to get her out of the pool and upstairs for a shower.

It had been our intention to go out to the Cambodian street food market for supper, as recommended by Chun yesterday, but Cornelia was now very tired and asked if we could stay in the hotel.  We had enjoyed our meal last night, so agreed that this made sense.  Ian showered first, and went off for a quick explore of the local area (and to try and find a birthday card for me, that I am not supposed to know about), and then Bugsy and I went down to the restaurant, where I ordered her pasta and waited for Ian.  He was only supposed to be half an hour, and I was just about to get worried (nearly an hour had passed!) when I saw him arriving.  Success, I asked?  Of sorts, came the response!  Hmmm….!

Bugsy ate all of her pasta and had an ice cream too (parenting mistake to give a tired child an icecream just before bed time?!), while Ian and I both had good meals again.  I only had pumpkin soup, as my tummy was still quite distended from whatever was making it weird, and Ian had the nasi goreng that I’d enjoyed last night.  Yum.

He was still drinking his beer, so I offered to take Cornelia upstairs and start getting her ready for bed.  Well, she was in bed fast asleep by the time Ian came back upstairs twenty minutes later!  We were also very tired from our 04:00 start, and I was just brushing my teeth, when the doorbell rang.  Quite irritated to be disturbed so late (it was 21:00), I flung the door open with the toothbrush still in my mouth, to find Chun and his colleague standing there with a birthday cake for me, singing Happy Birthday!  I swallowed my toothpaste and invited them in, as they videoed me blowing out my candles and wishing me well.  I was deeply touched.  They asked after Miss Cornelia, so I took them in to her room, so they could see her fast asleep, and they were so thrilled!  Oh, they were just SO sweet.

Once they’d gone, I finished brushing my teeth, and packed up my bags for our flight to our final new country tomorrow morning, but then felt really bad that I wouldn’t have touched their cake, and it might appear very rude.  I rinsed my mouth out as best I could, and asked Ian if he was going to have some too.  Luckily (for my diet!) it didn’t taste as good as it looked, so after a few mouthfuls, I was able to put it back in the fridge, guilt-free, knowing that I wouldn’t have insulted them by not eating any of it.

Finally, finally, I crashed into bed, ready for another early start tomorrow.  We are being collected at 06:00, so the alarm was set for 05:00.  I can’t quite believe this is all coming to an end.  Last new country tomorrow – and it’s also my birthday!

Hair today, gone tomorrow…!

21 January 2019

Ian and I woke up around 07:00 then just lazed in bed on our phones before getting up and showering around 08:30. Cornelia was still sound asleep, so at 09:00 we opened her curtains which was enough to wake her up. She was helpful and got dressed just in time for breakfast which finished at 09:30. I had been expecting a buffet breakfast, but we were handed a menu each and told we could choose either European or American. I went for the former, Ian the latter. Despite the dodgy photos warning us how breakfast would look, we were pleasantly surprised. A plate of fruit that Bugsy and I shared, a banana muffin each (Cornelia had one and a half of those!), muesli and yoghurt for me, eggs, sausage & bacon for Ian, and a mini croissant each. Although were only given tokens for two breakfasts, it was sufficient for the three of us. Cornelia had brought one of her activity books down with her, and she sat with Daddy completing different pages while I enjoyed a cup of tea.

Ian was still determined to shave off his beard, so armed with my nail scissors, I trimmed it down far enough for him to shave the rest off.  He thought that keep the moustache would allow him to fit in to our environment a bit better, but he was banned from doing so!  Twenty minutes later and he was clean-shaven for the first time in months and looked quite different!  Cornelia caught the hairdressing bug, and set up a salon in her bedroom, where she washed, cut and styled our hair… I was a bit nervous that she’d actually use her scissors, but fortunately, she knew that she was just playing!

We had whiled away the morning, not really doing much, but it was time for us to head to the beach.  We had missed the 12:00 shuttle (due to the grooming taking place), so decided to walk down.  It wasn’t far, just hot, and Google Maps showed a short cut off the main road that we could take.  Ian dropped off our two bags of laundry that we had been waiting to have done for a while (it was way too expensive in Vietnam (think £1.50 per pair of pants!) and we weren’t in Cambodia long enough for it to be washed and dried), and when Cornelia and I joined him just outside reception, he said that he’d been told it would take 48 hours to be returned.  We were all down to our final pair of pants, so I went back to reception and said that we needed it back by tomorrow morning, or we would just take it to the same laundry facility ourselves where we would be charged half the price (the hotel has a 100% mark up!).  The bags had already been taken down to the laundromat, but as the guy was getting on the moped to go and get it back for us, another member of staff who had been on the ‘phone (presumably to the laundromat) said not to worry, and that it would be back at 5pm today, for no extra charge.  Brilliant, we said, and thank you, and went on our way.

We enjoyed the ten minute walk down the back streets to Karon Beach.  It’s a 4km beach, and was packed with people!  We had thought we were at the quiet end of the beach, so cannot imagine what the other end must be like!  Anyway, we found a spot, unpacked our towels, and while I changed Bugsy into her swimsuit, Ian wandered off to the shops to buy a bucket and spade for her.

Cornelia and I went straight into the lovely warm sea and splashed around for half an hour, and I was just about to lie down on the towel to dry off when he returned, complete with bucket & spade, and other beach toys.  He then decided that he wanted a cold drink, so set off again in search of the refreshments, while Bugsy started her construction work.  A man passed us selling ice creams, and as Ian and I were about to have cold drinks, it seemed only fair that Cornelia should have something cooling! She was delighted to find out she was getting a chocolate Cornetto without having to do anything!

By this time, Ian was back, and while I relaxed in the sunshine, he was put to work building a sandcastle. I’m never sure who enjoys this more: Ian or Cornelia?!  He was getting very annoyed every time she stepped over the bridge and clipped it with her foot, so I’m guessing he was probably taking more pride in it!

We stayed on the beach for a couple of hours, alternating between cooling swims and sweaty sunbathing!  Both Cornelia and I felt as if we were being slightly stung in the water at one point, and we thought that maybe there were some tiny jellyfish in the water.  That was enough to put her off wanting to go in again, but Ian thought that the stings were probably “water lice” which, frankly, sound worse than jellyfish to me!  Back at the hotel, we rinsed off in the poolside shower, and spent another half an hour in the water there, playing catch with one of her Christmas presents (a “Vortex” rocket thing).  Two little Russian boys joined in, and the three of them just threw the Vortex to each other in turn until Cornelia said she was getting a bit cold and decided to get out of the pool.  We dried off, then headed back up to our apartment for a good old game of UNO!  We have hardly played it since we’ve been on holiday, so we had a couple of refresher rounds, playing an open hand, before things got serious.  And Ian and I got beaten TWICE by a four year old, who had no help whatsoever.  Oh, the shame!!! ;o)

Once she’d established her position as Queen of UNO, she wanted to do some drawing, and as I found a whole pad of paper that I’d been carting around with me since New Zealand, she set to work.  She drew two pictures of a happy Mummy in the woods, and two very funny pictures of Daddy – complete with grumpy face! Luckily he saw the funny side…I think!

Hoping to go out for dinner again tonight, we showered quickly and were on time to catch the 18:00 shuttle to Karon Beach.  Just before we got on the shuttle, I asked if our laundry had come back.  We were told it was ready and one of the men was just about to go get it for us, when I said not to bother, that we would collect it first thing in the morning.  They said this was fine, and we were thrilled that they’d managed to get our laundry done in time for us.

We were dropped off at Island View Hotel, and we retraced our steps along the main road up to Golden Paradise Restaurant which scored highly on Trip Advisor (#25 out of 2,959 restaurants in Phuket) despite its appearance as a kebab shop!  Ian did not look very sure at all, but in the absence of a better suggestion, we agreed to give it a go.  Cornelia was very happy to have fish fingers and chips again; Ian tried the chicken & cashew nuts; and I had sweet & sour chicken (something that I haven’t had for years) and it was all delicious!  Once again, we had a great spot right by the edge of the road (although the restaurant is higher up than the road, so you’re not close to the traffic and people walking past!), and had a fun evening people-watching again, and playing “eye spy”.  For some crazy reason, I said Cornelia could have a chocolate ice cream for dessert, before I remembered that she’d already had one earlier.  Obviously the sunshine had gone to my head!  Once she’d eaten it, we had about ten minutes to stroll back down to the shuttle stop, where we waited patiently, looking at the beautiful big moon that was shining brightly behind the hotel.  The photos don’t do it justice, of course, but it was quite magnificent.

We made it onto the 19:30 shuttle bus back up the hill, and Cornelia was in bed by 20:15.  But the chocolate ice cream kicked in, and it was gone 21:00 by the time she actually fell asleep, having eventually stopped calling out for me and Daddy!  I stayed up for a bit, blogging (of course!), and before we knew it, it was 23:00 – way past my bedtime!

So long, Halong!

18 January 2019

I was woken up rudely by next door’s alarm clock going off at 04:00. Unfortunately, it didn’t wake THEM up! At 04:45, as Ian was now awake, I rang their room phone and waited until I heard them stumble about before hanging up. The alarm sounded for a moment longer, until they’d fumbled around, found it and switched it off at long last! The good part of me hoped that they wouldn’t miss whatever it was that required them to be up at 04:00, whereas the not-so-kind part of me hoped that they’d absolutely screwed up their day!

The repetitive melody had driven me quite bonkers and it took me a while to go back to sleep, and then all too soon, Ian’s 07:00 alarm went off, and we grumbled a bit before getting up to shower. Cornelia was helpful and got herself dressed without any delaying tactics and we went to breakfast to be greeted by the manager there, who adores Cornelia so much. She scooped Cornelia up for a cuddle, and then showed her the photos she’d taken of her the other day. She had photoshopped them to include funny ears and a nose etc and was clearly delighted with the results! She was lovely, but probably just a bit too “in your face” for Bugsy’s liking. Anyway, she smiled her way through, whilst giving me the “Mummy, what is going on?!” look! We were seated in the “outdoor” area again, and I went off straightaway to get watermelon and a chocolate croissant for Cornelia, who wanted to come with me. Once I’d returned her to the table with her two plates of food, I whizzed off for my scrambled eggs, and Ian has his usual muesli and banana. We quickly become creatures of habit in each country, when it comes to breakfast time!

With final goodbyes and cuddles with the manager, we left for the slow walk back to our room – it was only slow because Cornelia was saying “cam on” and “tam biet” to all the staff and explaining that we were leaving today (thank you and goodbye).

Ian rang up for someone to help with the luggage and he arrived almost immediately. I was still brushing my teeth when he turned up and had to quickly shove the bathroom bag into my suitcase before it was all whisked away to the mainland for us. We checked out, signing off our bill for nearly 10,000,000 Dong, and saying our goodbyes to the friendly staff. We had a short wait for the boat, and on the other side, we found the same driver who’d picked us up from Hanoi airport, Cuong (not Gunz as I had previously spelled his name!), waiting for us.

We had contacted the company which arranged the driver to request that our return journey took the expressway, which should reduce our journey time from five hours to about two and a half, which was agreed for the princely sum of $13. Apparently it’s not used much yet, as the drivers receive a kickback from the shops where they stop (like the huge craft store with restaurant, where we stopped on the way up to Halong), despite it taking so much longer!

The expressway only opened four months again and the aim is to open it all the way to China. It was in perfect condition, and running alongside the brand new expressway were signs of centuries old ways of life: rice paddies, fishing boats and little huts. We crossed over the Bach Dang River, famous because 1,000 years ago in the China v Vietnam war, the Vietnamese King beat them here in the river. The bridge across the river is huge and rises up steeply to a peak before dropping back down again. Apparently, in the typhoon season, it can be pretty scary crossing it!

We stopped off to use the loo at one of the two service stations on the way, and they were immaculate. It looks as if there will be a big shop development here in a couple of years, but for now, all the brand new buildings are empty. Continuing our journey, we passed a huge new development which will become Vin City (same owner as our Vin Pearl Hotel). Cuong told us that you can buy an apartment for 20% and then spread the payments of the remaining 80% over the next 35 years. It will massively increase the already vast sprawl of Hanoi.

Hanoi Airport was delightfully quiet by contrast to the city bustle, and despite expecting to pay for our extra luggage (we could only get 20kgs each when the tickets were bought), we weren’t charged for the additional five kilos. We couldn’t believe it! We had a discussion with the check in woman about our car seat – she wouldn’t take it and said it would count as hand luggage and we would have to leave it at the gate, but her supervisor arrived with impeccable timing and agreed that it should go with the rest of our checked bags and there wasn’t an extra charge. Blimey! We still thought that we’d probably have to pay for our overweight hand luggage but decided not to say anything at that moment in time.

At security, we needed to remove our shoes and all electronic devices, as well as watches, keys etc, something we haven’t had to do anywhere else so far. But we weren’t held up at all, and were soon in the departure lounge where Cornelia was delighted by a) the travelators and b) a little play area. Ian supervised her there, while I went off to source lunch: a chicken burger combo for Ian, and a ham & cheese sandwich for Cornelia. I ordered Ian an iced tea to go with his combo, but hadn’t appreciated that the only drink we could have was a Pepsi. Bleurgh, never mind! At least there were water fountains available so we could top up our bottles. We had nearly three hours before our flight left for Siem Reap, which was just as well, because it took nearly that long to fill the bottles, with the slow trickle of water!

We had realised that we needed US$ for our visa entry into Cambodia and I went to the Currency Exchange at Hanoi to purchase some, but it was a cash only desk. Ian went on a hunt for an ATM, so he could withdraw some Dong, then make the exchange, but was unsuccessful. There are no ATMs on this side of security. D’oh! On the plus side, we boarded without having our hand luggage weighed. Simple things, but we couldn’t believe our luck!

On arrival in Siem Reap, just under two hours later, we found an ATM as soon as we entered the arrivals hall. Having completed our immigration forms on the flight, we then had to fill in visa application forms, and wait in a line to be seen by the visa officer. It was all very quick and efficient. It cost $US90 plus and extra $6 because we didn’t have a passport photo for each application. As it happened, he knocked off $1 as the ATM had only given me a $100 bill, and he didn’t have any smaller than a fiver by way of change. Then we waited at the end of the desk, where the other visa officials passed down the passports and forms, before calling out our names, and collecting our visas.

Our driver was waiting for us once we had collected our bags, and drove us quickly to the wonderful Koulen Hotel. The traffic is crazy, as we’d expected, but it seems to have a method to it, and there were no “white knuckle” moments! It is a sign of the hugely increased development that there is a Starbucks and Dominos pizza next to our hotel, but you would never know it from the terrific haven that was our hotel. We were greeted by Chun, would could not have been kinder, more interested in us and our well-being, and more helpful if he tried. We sipped our lemongrass welcome drinks while he sat with us, describing everything in the hotel in great detail, before bringing out a local map and showing us the best places to walk, eat, shop and explore. We were then shown to our room. To call it a room would be an understatement. Good old Booking.com had given us a free upgrade and we had a magnificent and huge two bed apartment. The living space was enormous, and there were two bathrooms as well. Such luxury! We couldn’t believe the good fortune we’ve enjoyed today.

It was already nearly 18:30, and we went straight down to the hotel restaurant for supper. We were the only guests there, and once we’d browsed the menu, we ordered our food. Informing us that it would take about 25 minutes to arrive, we relaxed with our beers, explaining fashion, modelling and advertising to Bugsy, who was watching the TV screen in fascination, which was showing the making of a Mercedes Benz advert! It’s harder than it sounds to describe fashion and models to a four year old, especially when I’m trying to reinforce that it’s not what you look like that matters, but who you are on the inside that counts.

Ian and I were both tired from being woken up early by THAT alarm, and as we had a very early start tomorrow, I was keen to get Cornelia to bed as quickly as possible. We wolfed down our nasi goreng (me) and beef lok lak (Ian) and got our little girlie into bed. She was in a bit of a Mummy mood, so Daddy was dismissed once he’d read her a chapter of her Hot Dog book, and I cuddled her for the ten minutes it took her to fall asleep.

Alarm set for the morning (and hoping that we wouldn’t sleep through it like our neighbours in Vietnam this morning), I was in bed by 22:00. Result!