As I sit down to start writing this in a hotel room in Jakarta, the year is not quite half over and already I have spent nearly 200 hours on aeroplanes and Sylvia probably even more. As yet I have been lucky not to catch Covid, well not that I have noticed anyway. Sylvia caught it, she thinks while at a meeting in Dubai, and as a result ended up spending seven days in a hotel room in South Africa. At the time I was back in NZ. As I have mentioned before, travel has become a lot more complicated with various countries having different apps or forms to fill out before entering so as to track you if covid has come near you. There are still massive shortages of staff at airports so everything takes a lot longer and is more complicated and expensive that it used to be. Most airports still have planes parked up with red plugs in their engines.
Sunday 12 June 2022
Having flown from Marseilles we are in a queue at Charles De Gaule Airport in Paris waiting to go through immigration when a police-type person sees our passports and says “I thought the hermit kingdom of New Zealand was all locked up – How did you manage to escape!” A few more queues and a bus ride followed by more queues and we were finally on our Air France flight with the captain announcing that due to “I am not quite sure what” we are delayed. Interestingly, Air France owns KLM, previously the Dutch national airline. KLM is much better to fly with better seats and service.
Monday 13 June 2022
Flying into Bangkok we pass over large areas all in crops, with villages often hosting large commercial buildings. Many of the towns look well laid out and there seems to be water everywhere, if not on the fields, in large holding ponds, I presume for irrigation and flooding of the rice fields. Close to the city the land gives way to large industrial areas.
We land at Bangkok’s main airport a couple of hours late. The original plan was that Sylvia would have a couple of hours spare to go to the hotel and freshen up before going into a day of meetings. A driver picked us up and drove us to the Sindhorne Kempinski Hotel in the city centre, about 40 minutes from the airport. There seems to be a lot less traffic on the roads here than we have experienced in previous visits, apparently as a result of no Chinese tourists I discovered later.We head to our room and Sylvia hurriedly showers, gets changed and in 15 minutes is whisked off by Chadon, the country manager, for a day of meetings.
One thing about hotels in this part of the world is the service is normally excellent and the rooms large and nicely fitted out. I fill in the day with a look around the hotel and local nearby shops and restaurants and a trip to the gym followed by a massage. The hotel is quite new as are the nearby shops and grounds. There are lots of SAMS and SAWS here (stand around men/woman). One lady spends all day in the grounds pouncing on every leaf that falls from the many trees, all of which are held up by steel or bamboo frames as they have been recently moved there. On the 5th floor there is an infinity pool with views out across the city.
At 4pm a van arrives to pick me up and take me to a bar/restaurant on the edge of the Chao Phraya River. Chadon and Sylvia are there with the Thai management team. We make our way up a number of spiral stairways to the rooftop bar, where we relax and watch the sunset across the river on the large Wat Arun Rajwararam Temple. As darkness moved in we headed back down the stairs into a restaurant where we enjoyed a variety of the local food and good conversation.
Dinner over we headed back to our hotel. A few weeks ago I was chatting on the phone to Kirstie, my youngest daughter. She and husband Michael, along with oldest daughter Victoria, her partner Beau and our granddaughter, Mackenzie, are all coming to France to visit us. Kirstie mentioned that she had got a room in Bangkok for $75. I enquired the date and it turned out to be the night we were there. We organised a room at our hotel for them. On returning from dinner I caught up with them in the bar. Kirstie said rather excitedly “wow dad, thanks for getting us a room here – it’s nearly as big as our house”.
Tuesday 14 June 2022
Sylvia had a breakfast meeting so I joined Kirstie and Micheal for breakfast, after which we had organised a driver to take us on a quick tour of the city sites, all of which I had seen before. They, like us, were departing later in the day.
Our first stop was the the Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit. It weighs in at 5.4 tons and has an interesting history: covered in ceramics, it was brought from the old capital in the first part of last century and sat around for some time before a place was build to put it. While craning it into position a rope broke and it hit the ground, breaking off some of the ceramics exposing the gold. In 1767 the old capital of Siam, Ayutthaya, was attacked by Buddhists from Burma and burnt to the ground. While under threat the locals had clad this Buddha in ceramics to hide its value. After the attack the capital was moved to Bangkok and at some stage later the Buddha followed. That’s around 31 million dollars of gold sitting out in the open. Originally made in India in 5 pieces there is a key somewhere so it can be broken down to transport. I bet they don’t leave that lying around. There is a school and a bunch of monks based here. People come here to pray and make offerings such as uniforms for the monks.
Next stop was the Royal Palace, which is a large compound containing many buildings, which our guide insisted on trying to give a rundown of each one along with each statue. From a distance everything looks very glamorous with its gold paint, ceramics and cut glass; up close the attention to detail is not as good as it could be. Around many of the statues are figures with their arms swept back as though holding on and leaning out. These are made of a metal frame with plaster giving the the shape and paint and ceramics added. Some were being restored as we toured the palace. There are many temple-type building where people sit and pray – often no photos allowed. There is even a crocodile pond which nowadays hosts no crocodiles.
In a hall is a large lying gold-painted Buddha which we all filed past to take a look at. The grounds are large and contain many buildings, many of which are not open to the public, as with many such sights around the world. Last time I was here the country was in mourning with the passing of the last king; thousands of people queued up to walk past his body and pay their respects.
From here we headed back to the hotel, passing along a street designed to look like the Champs Elysees in Paris, after an earlier king took a trip there some years ago. Every government building and many intersections along the way have photos of the current King and Queen taken some years ago. Apparently the current queen served in the army and held the rank of general. Purple and white ribbons adorn the fences surrounding government building also.
It is quite common for young people at the end of their teen years to go and spend 3 months practicing as a monk before heading to university or into the workforce.
The guide explained to us that the reason there is so much street food in Bangkok is because most of the apartments don’t have kitchens.
Back at the hotel we headed out to a local restaurant where we enjoyed a late lunch as a couple of rather fluffy dogs suffered in the afternoon heat trying to catch the breeze from a fan to bring them some relief.
Not long after our late lunch, a van with armchair seats turned up to take me to the Royal Canin office where we picked up Sylvia and headed to the airport. As we approached the airport I happened to ask Sylvia what time we were flying as I had not been sent the details of the Asian flights. She said 5.15pm it was just on 5 and we were not yet at the airport. Someone had made a bit of a mistake as the flight times had changed a few times. After a few phone calls another flight was secured but from a different airport. The driver was contacted and returned to drive us across town about 60 minutes to a different airport where we caught a flight to Kuala Lumpur. Arriving a few hours later than originally planned it was well after midnight when we arrived at the hotel.
Wednesday 15 June 2022
Sylvia headed off to a meeting at 9am. As we were in a hotel out of the city near the Royal Canin office there was not a lot to do and as I have explored the city many times before I spent the day catching up on some work back in NZ along with a visit to the gym before joining Sylvia and the local team for a meal that night. We had a nice dinner with local food and the team were great, making me, the intruder, feel very welcome.
Thursday 16 June 2022
Sylvia headed off to a breakfast meeting again. After a good breakfast I headed off to explore the huge shopping centre, which is part of the hotel complex. I am not a shopper but it is interesting to see just how massive these places are, with several floors and new shopping centres joined to the old one and new buildings under construction. This place seems to go on forever with thousands of people browsing the hundreds of stores on each side of massive passageways. The One World Hotel about 10kms from the city centre, caters for hundreds of people with new office towers under construction all around it.
Mid-afternoon a taxi picked me up for the short drive to the Royal Canin office, where we picked Sylvia up and headed to the airport to catch a flight ot Langkawi Island for a break over the weekend. This was my fourth trip to the island, having attend the bi-annual air show there on three previous occasions with my friend and colleague Glen. We arrived when it was still light and a driver picked us up for the forty minute drive to the Datai Resort. The first trip here, Glen and Ihad stayed at the Andaman Hotel nearby. It was a really nice hotel with a number of large swimming pools all linked. Unfortunately the place was destroyed by fire in 2020.
The Datai Resort is very nice, with several dining areas and a large reflective pool beside the bar and breakfast area. There are stone steps leading down to the jungle below and paths through the trees and past bungalows to the beach, where there is another pool, restaurant and a gym right next to the beach, with its raked white sand and deck chairs. After a rather busy week, we spent the evening relaxing and enjoying the view.
Friday 17 June 2022
We enjoyed a relaxing breakfast by the pool, then Sylvia had a day interviewing for a vacant role in Spain. I headed off for a walk through the local jungle ending up at the gym by the beach. At the end of my work-out the attendant at the gym offered to stretch me, which was great. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and listening to a great book ‘Churchill’s Secret Warriers’, a bunch of special forces guys, who made life rather uncomfortable for both the German and Italian soldiers during WWII.
Saturday 17 June 2022
We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and checked out the frogs in the pond before being picked up by a driver for our journey to the northwest corner of the island.
In 2009 my mate Glen and I had driven up to this part of the island and on the beach we had found a guy with a boat who took us on a trip through the waterways, which was very interesting and enjoyable. I thought it would be a good idea for Sylvia to enjoy the experience. As we drove across the island there had been quite a few changes in the last 13 years including several new schools and a number of other government-type buildings that I don’t recall being there last time. There is a large cement works and wharf that looks like it has been added too.
Last time we had just found a guy on the beach and bargained with him for a ride; things have changed a bit since then. We headed down a road on the opposite side of the peninsular to what is now a large group of piers full of boats, some of them for fishing but most for taking tourists on journeys through the waterways. Stepping over obstacles, we made our way to the floating jetty and then rocked our way along it to the awaiting boat. Heading out into the main inlet we were passed by lots of boats going both ways. This whole area is a UNESCO geopark.
It was low tide so our first stop was to and watch a bunch of crabs crabbing their way accross the mud and in and out of holes, dropping a lid of mud on top of the hole to stop the birds getting them. Mud skippers with their blue spots lay around the waters edge ready to skip into the water at the first sight of a predator. Both play an important role, feeding on the bacteria on the mud and reducing any odour.
Next stop was to see the eagles swoop down for pieces chicken thrown into the water by people on some of the other boats. Not something our boatie believed in doing. Many boats had gathered to watch this but back in 2009 we were the only boat.
From here we headed up a narrow channel, often having to move over to let other boats pass. Monkeys played in the trees, waiting for the passing boats to throw them food. One even jumped into a boat to help himself ,much to the annoyance of the passengers who reacted with shrieks and screams.
The rain arrived but luckily there was a canopy on our boat. A boat passed us with a guy very proudly photographing his woman; she was sitting up the front of the boat getting soaked as he sat back under the canopy. As we headed into a cave with sleeping bats hanging from the roof a large monitor lizard swam past.
The next stop was a fish farm where various fish were on display in nets hanging down into the sea. A guy took delight in pulling out a large house-shoe crab that had been swimming amongst a bunch of sea slugs. Last time we had stopped at one of these we had picked a fish from a tank and enjoyed a really nice meal. Too many people here to even think of such a thing on this trip.
Leaving the fish farm we headed past a number of yachts in for repair at a local workshop before rounding out into the ocean and looking back towards a cliff with big letters advertising the Kilim Geoforest Park. More boats sped past us as we made our way back through the ocean to an inlet near the boat ramp. From there we headed back to the Datai where we enjoyed a rather late lunch at beach.
Sunday 18 June 2022
After breakfast we headed to the airport for a disjointed flight to Manila in the Phillipines. On Firefly airways we flew to the old KL airport, where a taxi picked us up and took us on the hour plus drive to the new or main airport, but to a different terminal where mainly Air Asia flies out of. There we met one of Sylvia’s colleagues for the flight to Manila. Once again arriving very late in the evening we headed off to our room to get some sleep. There is definitely a difference in the standard of workmanship between Thailand and here as the finishes in the rooms are all a bit rough.
Monday 19 June 2022
We headed down to breakfast reasonably early as Sylvia had meetings to attend. After breakfast I took a stroll around the local area. This area, once a large military base, is now new office blocks and even includes a large hospital that looks like an office block. There seems to be a cop-type person with a gun on every corner. Large armoured trucks with a guy riding shotgun pull up outside banks and money machines. Not only do they have guys riding shotgun here but in places there are standing shotgun guys, often with shiny stainless steel guns but often just standing in front of an empty lot. They also cary a 1911 colt pistol; with their large 200g plus bullets they are going to rip a large hole in one of these generally not very big people. The shops don’t open until 10 here but even at 9.30 there were people queueing up outside the local mall as people at the open air market next to the mall pulled the covers off their stands ready for a days trading. By 10 there must have been 500 people queued up ready to rush into the mall. As the morning progressed, the humidity rose as did the temperature. Eventually I found a professional looking massage place and enjoyed a good hard massage. There wasn’t really a lot to see apart from shops and office towers so eventually I made my way back to the hotel and spent a bit of time in the gym.
Tuesday 20 June 2022
After breakfast, Sylvia headed off to the office with the other management people on the visit. Mid-morning a driver turned up to collect me for a tour of the city. We drove to the edge of the new city (old military base) to take a look at the US War Cemetery. Like the rest of these all over the world it is well laid out with the war graves of those whose bodies were found and identified laid in a circular fashion around a memorial where the name of every soldier that perished is etched into the stone – some fifty thousand of them.
The Phillipines were under Spanish rule for around 300 years until the US invaded them in 1898. Apart from wanting to have an empire like the UK and other European countries had, they saw the Spanish were weak so after one of the new US steel shops exploded in Cuba they blamed the Spanish and went to war. 200 thousand Philippines people perished in the war – only one in ten of those being a soldier. After the Spanish surrendered, a fight went on for a few more years as rebels sprang up against the US. Just prior to WWII the US was in the process of granting independence. This finally happened on the 4 June 1946. Since then there has been a bit of turmoil and fighting still goes on with rebels in the southern islands from time to time. President Marcos was a dictator here for a number of years but eventually overthrown by the people. He and his family went into exile – Mrs Marcos famous for her collection of shoes. After he (Marcos) died, the family was allowed back into the country and were supposed to face corruption charges; this never happened and the son went into politics and thirty years later has just been sworn in as president.
Next we headed towards Manila City with its small population of 1.8 million. The metropolitan area, which covers over 1800 sq km, has a population of around 24 million. Along the way the driver pointed out walled off areas where the rich and famous along with a few diplomats live. As we got closer to Manila the driver took great delight in pointing out the Jeepneys, which are a cross between a bus and a taxi. They came about after WWII when there were lots of US Army jeeps left behind. Some smart person bought some of these, extended the chassis and turned them into public transport. Apparently the way they work is one jumps in the back and hands payment to the person next to you who hands it up the line to the driver who stows it between his fingers so as one drives past you see notes sticking out like a fan on the drivers hand. Many have bars or mesh on the driver’s door. From what I can gather they are now made in Japan with a diesel motor.
We drove through narrow streets and around various parts of the city, where motorbikes with sidecars are used as taxis. Apparently they can carry 5 plus the driver, 3 in the sidecar and two on the back of the bike. The driver looks at me and says “not people like you though, most of us are quite small!”
Next stop was a park dedicated to a Philippino hero who had lead an uprising against the Spanish before eventually being captured imprisoned and executed. A fee was charged to enter the park and all had to sanitise hands and wear a mask, as is the case everywhere here, even outdoors. Banners flew, welcoming the new president, and walls, fences etc were being given a fresh coat of paint in preparation for the coming ordination. Men and woman sat on little stools to tidy up the gardens on the roadside.
Next we paid a visit to a steel church which was showing the odd patch of rust as if to prove it was made of steel.
Finally we entered the old city of Manila, originally surrounded by a wall and a large moat which the US filled in and turned into a golf course. I took a stroll along part of the remaining wall, which in its day was some 5 kms long. Some rusty old cannons had been put in some of the old gun emplacements. A guy in a striped uniform complete with Sam Brown belt, the holster not containing the revolver, approached me. This is the uniform of the Spanish guards back in the 1800’s still worn to carry on a tradition as the Spanish had this fortified city a few hundred years ago. Here the sidecars were attached to a bicycle; the driver warned me not to take a ride as they will say the price is 20 pesos, then at the end ask for 20 USD. Similar thing happened to me in Saigon with a rickshaw driver!! Some of the walls still showed the pock marks where bullets had smashed against them in years past.
The old fort was open to the public so I took a wander around its old buildings, including what had started as underground storage rooms, but the river seeped in and ruined the goods so they built new stores and used these spaces as a prison-come-torture-chamber. This was carried on by the Japanese during WWII; many of the prisoners drowned before they were executed.
On the way out of the old city we passed what has become known as the lucky church as it was the only building in this area not to be hit by bombs or shells when the US chased out the Japanese in 1945. At one point a couple of people rode past on bamboo-framed bikes.
As we started our journey back to the hotel the driver apologised as he was going to take a short cut through the slums. I assured him I didn’t mind in the least. The more I see of these places the more I admire the people that live in them, often carving out an existence on nothing – they are really resourceful with their ability to survive on no handouts from their governments. Interestingly the western world has, over the last 50 years, cut defence budgets to put more into welfare to avoid raising taxes. The Russian attack on Ukraine has been a massive wake up call to us all. As in most slums the shacks are built of leftovers, the power and phone cables are a tangled web of wires. At one stage I saw, I presume a fault-finding guy actually walking along the tangled web of wires. Much of the land the new cities are built on are reclaimed land from what were once swamps. The area is called Makati; the driver explained the word means itchy as originally it was a mosquito infested swamp.
Arriving back at the hotel a driver picked me up and we headed to Royal Canin to pick up the others, then the airport for our flight to Jakarta.
Wednesday 21 June 2022
Sylvia went off to meetings. I had a wander around the shopping centre, which is attached to the Intercontinental hotel where we were staying. It is huge with aisles of shops in the halls that cross over the main road to join another set of shops on the other side. I saw a number of prominent signs saying METRO, so presuming there must be a metro station nearby I followed the signs only to find out that Metro is a brand of shops over here.
Thursday 23 June 2022
Having had a bit of a hunt around the net and talking to the concierge I took a taxi to the Military Museum. It appears the Indonesian archipelago has been inhabited for some 1.5 million years. The Austronesian people, who form the majority of today’s population, are thought to have come from Taiwan about 2000 BC. The first evidence of the Islamic populations is in northern Sumatra in the 13th century. By the 16th century it had spread through most of the 17,000 or 18,000 islands. The Portuguese rocked up in the 1500’s and in 1602 the Dutch established the Dutch East Indies Company, that lasted until 1800 and went broke, being run under government control. In 1942 they were invaded by the Japanese who were defeated in 1945. The day after the defeat Nationalist leader Sukarno declared independence and became the leader. The Dutch were not too keen on that idea and a war of independence went on until 1949 when international pressure caused the Dutch to back down and allow independence. In 1965 an army-lead anti-communist purge killed half a million people. General Suharto politically outmanoeuvred Sukarno and became the president. Since Suharto resigned in 1998 the country has become more democratic and in 2004 held its first presidential election.
The museum looks like it is struggling for funds, with many of the firearms on display quite rusty. There are many models set behind glass depicting various battles and surrenders; these are particularly prominent for the independence war. There are a number of aircraft displayed including a trusty old DC3. It is from one of these I did my first military parachute jump – owned by the NZ Airforce it used to often break down. These planes played a big role in WWII, transporting troops and supplies all over the world. There is still the odd one flying nowadays.
Next stop was the natural history museum with its large statue commemorating the 2001 Tsunami out the front, which looks like people are caught up in the waves. This is a reasonably big museum with a range of artifacts dating back thousands of years including the skeletal remains of a woman from some 7000 years ago.
From here I decided to try and catch the bus back to the hotel to get an elevated view of the town. After a bit of pointing and google translate I boarded a bus, minding the gap between the platform and the bus, which at times was up to half a meter – I think it depended on how the driver was feeling. The bus stops are raised up like a railway platform and in most places the bus has its own lane which it cruises slowly along. Mounting the bus, turning right and sitting down a woman glared at me pointing to the other passengers and saying “woman only”. Oops, I had not seen the sign! Jumping to my feet I fled to the back end of the bus. Getting off at the next stop again with a bit of pointing and google translate I found the next bus. It headed west across town through an area which I hade marked on my map as dangerous from my last visit here. These areas are a bit rough with lots of shacks thrown up in any spare space as a shop and often a place to live, where people make a living selling stuff. Heading west for a few kilometres the bus then turned south into its bus lane. The roads here are quite wide and even after giving up a lane for busses there are still three lanes for the cars. The traffic here also appears to be less than on my last visit. As we go further south the buildings improve with the odd shack here and there amongst the large office blocks and shopping centres.
Friday 24 June 2022
After breakfast and a trip to the gym, I caught the bus north a few stops to where a railway station is situated. Using the card I bought yesterday, I headed up to the platform area where it failed to work. The security guy held onto my driver’s licence while I went to a shop in the station and put 5000 locals on the card. Licence back, I headed down to the platform for the trains going south and soon was on board. I had really wanted to see the countryside here and this seemed to be the best way to do it.
Alongside the railway track there are almost a continuous line of shacks, many of them shops selling all sorts of things and in some cases only a couple of metres between the railway line and the shopfront or shack front. Lots of people milled around and at every level crossing there’s a queue of new motorbikes and the odd car waiting for the train to pass. As we get about 10 or 15 km south of the city the housing thins out and we started passing rice paddies and other cropping areas.
As the city spread out even more there was the odd large apartment building in amongst the shacks. In the odd area it was being dug out, obviously to be developed. People worked in the rice paddies, even in the rain, up to their knees in water planting their crops. A few sheep and the odd cattle beast are also around. At about the 20 km mark the train pulled up to a platform and everybody dismounted. Some more pointing and a bit of Google translate and I found the platform with the next train going further south.
Now we were getting a little more into the countryside with more paddock. Some of the houses on some of the small farms look quite good. The trains are really clean with no sign of graffiti inside or out. Cleaners go through the carriages, one throwing a liquid on the floor and the other mopping it up. Interestingly there are police security people here that don’t seem to carry guns. I found that the people that I engaged with were generally polite and friendly. Standing by the door on the left hand side of the carriage I got a good view of the countryside.
Eventually, at a place called Tenjo, I hopped off onto what looked like a temporary steel platform, crossed the tracks and waited for a train to go back the other way. After some 2 1/2 hours I was still only about 40 km south of the city. The platform on the northbound side was quite low so everyone had to haul themselves up into the carriage. Not knowing the train timetable I thought it was probably time to wait for a train going north and hoped it would take me back to where I started from. Standing on the left side of the carriage again I got to see what was on the other side. With a bit of good luck, a few hours later I ended up at the station from which the journey had begun.
Saturday 25 June 2022
As Sylvia had skype meetings until late Friday we had to wait until Saturday evening to catch the flight to France, the rest of her accompanying team having left last night. It rained heavily most of the day, which we spent reading and chatting in our room on the 21st floor with a view across the city.