Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Palaces, snakes, tigers, oh, and a small earthquake!

FIRST my glass of orange juice began to slop from side to side, then the chairs, tables and walls began to tremble and finally the whole hotel shook as an earthquake rocked my holiday in Thailand.

I just froze but thankfully the quake, which measured 6.7 on the Richter scale and killed more than 20 people in nearby Burma, had weakened to a 3.0 by the time it reached me.

It was a truly scary moment in a holiday laced with incident and excitement from palaces, snakes and long tailed boat rides in Bangkok to tigers, microlighting and hill tribes in Chiang Mai and shows and beautiful gardens in Pattaya.

Heathrow’s horror charge of £7.25 for a sausage sandwich was soon a distant memory and a tiring double flight via Hong Kong was eased by a delicious meal of shrimp at the famous Cabbages and Condoms restaurant in Bangkok on my first night.

Our first full day was packed with fearful fascination at the threat of a King Cobra striking out during a visit to the Red Cross Centre, wonder at the grandeur and majesty of the Grand Palace toured in pantaloons to cover our shorts and disbelief at the fearsome humidity. We had to refuel with beer at the Rosabieng restaurant where we also enjoyed a delicious dish of deep fried duck followed by mango ice-cream.

Next day we visited the Ancient City, a site covered in replicas of palaces, temples and other buildings from all over Thailand, and I was treated to the slightly surreal sight of a man selling honeycombs slung on strings from the crossbar of his bicycle!

A hilarious session on gin and tonics in a bar near our hotel that night was followed by a slightly fragile trip the next day to the famous Damnoen Saduak floating market complete with long tailed boat trip. Nothing like a roaring car engine two feet from your ear to clear a hangover!

We took things a little easier that night, but nearly met a fate worse than death while having one last drink in a bar. A few sips into our stay we became aware that nearly half the women could do with a shave and we carefully drank up, made our excuses and left with our backs firmly to the wall!

A few visits to local markets and it was time to fly north to the jungles and mountains of Chiang Mai where we’d hired a guide, Paul Collins of Best Tuk Tuk Tours who was outstanding and made our holiday. His encyclopaedic knowledge took us to places no coach load of tourists will ever see and all in his charming three-wheeled tuk tuk, a character vehicle if ever there was one.

Our hotel, the Centara Duangtawan, was excellent despite the earthquake and our wonderful stay in the area included visits to the stunning Doi Suthep temple, a variety of craft centres from silk and wood to laquer and umbrellas, an elephant camp, Tiger Kingdom where we sat quietly with some of these magnificent creatures and a visit to a hill tribe including the famous long-necked Karen women. We even had a nine-dish lunch by an idyllic reservoir.

It was just one delight after another and discovering the Lemongrass restaurant barely 200 metres from our hotel was heaven, some of the best food I have eaten at ridiculously low prices, less than £24 for two of us including drinks.

I rounded my Chiang Mai stay off with a bit of pure indulgence. I went microlighting 1,000ft over the countryside just after dawn, crossing paddy fields, cruising above temples, forest and jungle and rounding it all off by crossing a huge dam wall and heading out over the water, king of all I surveyed. I won’t forget that trip for a long time.

The next day we flew back to Bangkok and hopped a taxi down to Pattaya and the little Seaside Guesthouse which was neat, clean and just what we wanted.

We visited giant Buddha figures, the magnificent all-wood Sanctuary of Truth building, Underwater World and an old favourite of mine, Nong Nooch botanical gardens which were stunning.

The humidity was crippling and towards the end of our stay the weather turned with three colossal thunderstorms in a single afternoon and another gigantic storm the next day which sank parts of central Pattaya under four feet of floodwater in barely an hour.

Nighttime included the neon delights of Pattaya’s famous Walking Street, relaxing at the Beer Garden 100 metres out to sea and enjoying a very good rock band at the Classroom bar at the top of our road. We also enjoyed a visit to the famous Tiffany’s transvestite show which was very slick and professional.

All too soon it was time to fly home, but I will be back and some wonderful photographic memories will keep me going until then.

Meeting a long-necked woman from the Karen hill tribe

Town pulls together for magical night

THERE’s a real feel good factor about this week’s column. 

I even have a kind word for the council (see below) probably because attending the Buddy Holly night at the Marine Theatre put me a good mood for the week.

You can beat a bit of rock 'n' roll to get the positive juices flowing.

Actually, it was a really good weekend with the town coming together on Saturday to get the Christmas festivities off to quite a magical start.

Regular readers in this column will recall last year that I got into deep hot water when I suggested that a couple of thousand quid from the district council had been wasted of trying to organise four late night shopping nights. 

My view was based entirely on what had happen before in Lyme. Things didn’t get any better when I asked freelance journalist Geoff Baker to take a stroll into town on one of those nights to give his own personal view. 

I remember Geoff phoning me as I was compering the Lyme’s Got Talent Christmas Concert to say that downtown he was about as popular as Helen Mills at a Beatles convention.

But this year I must say well done to the Lyme Traders’ Organisation, and in particular Bee Painton from the Serendip Bookshop,  who organised a number of festive events throughout the day on Saturday, prior to the lantern parade and switching on of the town Christmas illuminations by the Mayor, Councillor Sally Holman.

There was a real buzz about the town in the afternoon and whilst the crowds were not excessive it looked like the shops were doing better than usual.

We had Victorian carollers, a strolling band and a Santa’s Grotto and many of the traders served some festive cheer and goodies to add to the atmosphere.

Later in the afternoon the crowd exploded into hundreds, possibly thousands, for the lantern parade and switch-on, led by the Lyme firemen and the Majorettes in their Jubilee costumes.

Down on The Shambles around the tree the reformed Lyme Junior Band entertained with some carols and got a huge cheer from the crowd.

The lantern workshop at the Baptist Church was a hive of activity with around 70 youngsters taking part. 

When the workshop started about five years ago there were just a handful of participants but now they travel from as far afield as Tiverton to take part.

Despite the pressures on costs, I think the Christmas displays in Broad Street will maintain Lyme’s reputation of having the best Christmas lights in the area and, after a bit of a wobble, most shops in the main street have a Christmas tree above their premises - even Lloyds Bank!

Finally, thanks as always must go to Barbara Austin and her team for yet again raising the money to pay for the illuminations.

Running Lyme council is quite a business

THIS column is rarely slow in criticising our town council so it’s only fare that we should recognise a great deal of good work that goes on at the Guildhall. Well, it is Christmas. 

Last year I was highly critical of the lack of debate when the council’s annual budget was fixed. This year it’s been a very different story and town clerk Mike Lewis, having produced his last budget before retiring, and strategy and policy committee chairman Mark Gage, are to be congratulated on how the budget for the next financial year was presented.

It was a minor inconvenience that they were unable to approve the budget, through no fault of their own, because they have to get special dispensation to vote on the matter because they are council taxpayers (how ridiculous), If they weren’t, they would not be serving on the council.

The budget was set out in a very readable fashion with explanatory notes which I think would have aided councillors greatly and provided much more detail than some of the other councils this newspaper group reports on.

When Mark Gage was elevated to the main chairmanship within days of winning a seat on the council, he committed himself to improving the council’s openness and financial efficiency.

This year’s budget procedure was certainly evidence of this.

Marine Theatre is really rockin’

IT’S really pleasing to see that things are going so well down at the Marine Theatre.

After so many years of struggling and financial worries, the old theatre is really rocking these days.

“Rocking” was certainly the only word appropriate on Sunday when the Marine played host to a Buddy Holly tribute band.

This was another sell-out event which is very often the case for the Marine these days. 

Comedian Jo Brand played to a full house recently and all tickets have been sold for Jeremy Hardy’s appearance on Saturday, December 15th.

As you might expect, Sunday’s audience was made up of those of us of a certain age. Jackie and I were accompanied by daughter Francesca and her boyfriend Rob, our entertainments editor, who brought the average age down to about 82!

But once a rocker always a rocker and despite the grey heads and expanding girths, there was some serious dancing going on in the isles.

The band, “Buddy Holly and the Cricketers”, were superb, covering all the great numbers from the golden era of rock’n roll from the 1950s.

The programme was made up of mostly of Holly hits with a bit of Elvis Presley. Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Everly Brothers and Jerry Lee Lewis.

The LymeArts Trust, under the enthusiastic stewardship of chairman David Edwards, and members of the Theatre Friends, are working really hard to maximise the theatre’s popularity and stabilise its future. 

More gigs like this and they are bound to succeed.