Monday 24th December
We had been marooned in the outskirts of downtown Pattaya for 10 days, sleeping in Landy at Plodd Stop. As much as Jim was enjoying the company of David’s fierce guard dog, it was time to go.
Our joy at receiving the new leaf springs for the car was short lived, as we struggled to get the nearby garage mechanic to abandon the bevvy of ailing cars cluttering up his small garage forecourt and come to the Plodd Stop pit and get us mobile.
Whilst Jim went to collect the heavy springs in a local truck, I had spent the day visiting Bangkok again, to get our Temporary Import Permit extended and it was disappointing to return, TIP in hand, and find us still imobilised and the springs not even in sight!
The first effort at fitting the new springs had failed, late in the afternoon on Thursday 21st December as the light receded. His excruciating promises to return in the morning filled me with more gloom than hope.
In the event, on Friday 22nd, by 11am he had failed to arrive and the weekend loomed large. We were still 1000kms away from our rendezvous with the family and a much fancied hotel booking in Koh Lanta on Monday December 24th and no clear plan now of how to get there.
In desperation, I wobbled off to the garage on a rusty bicycle armed with Google Translate, determined to sit in the middle of his workshop until he honoured his commitment to Landy. There were a heap of skinny greasy boys with their heads in bonnets, and the boss shrugged and gesticulated towards his massive backlog. It was hot, I was sweaty and mortified. I called Jim who said offer them a bonus! This had no discernible effect. So dear readers, I decided to howl without a tissue! It was not a pleasant sight, but it was effective.
Two hours became twenty minutes and then twenty minutes become 10. Two of the skinny boys were taken to Plodd Stop with the springs and at midday they renewed their efforts to attach them to the car. An hour later, despite a lot of effort, they had failed to force the springs to sit in their brackets.
Eventually the boss returned and four of them struggled and strained with a motely selection of jacks and tripods taking the weight of the car off its substructure and there was a worrying amount of heaving and jemmying. Finally by about 1pm, one spring was attached and the second old spring removed. This one too had snapped and it was not visible until the leafs were splayed over the ground in a dirty rusty heap. Thank God we had splashed out and purchased two new sets!
To cut a long story short, by 4pm when the sun was setting on the day, both leaf springs were installed and we were ready to test drive the car. We packed up camp as best we could and I drove off down the back streets with Jim’s bath towel flapping off the front bumper. Needless to say, I returned without the towel! We paid the garage, double of very little and Jim legged it off on foot to find his towel.
He returned a few minutes later. The towel had been scooped up already and worse, Jim’s Rohan trousers now had a large rip, as he had been set upon by one of the hoards of local strays. Luckily it had not broken the skin as I am not sure Jim had splashed out on a rabies jab!
We decided to leave Plodd Stop the following morning and this gave us two full days to cover 1000kms and reach our island destination on good roads.
We spent the last couple of hours of the day finding engine oil and getting it changed, so Landy was all ready to leave the following morning. We were happy to be under our own steam.
On Saturday we were off. We followed the coast of Thailand northwards and determined to get beyond Bangkok so we could head South on Sunday. We slowly emerged the other side of Bangkok and never far from a sea coast. As the day drew to a close, we slipped to the shore in a small town called Prachuap Kiri Khan.
Lazily we found a 500 baht lodging with an amazing balcony view over the sea and Jim spied a temple up some very steep steps beyond a bustling night market.
This slightly dilapidated, but charming place was the perfect stopover. Jim ran the gauntlet of what looked like a serious infestation of marauding aggressive looking Mackak monkeys to visit the temple.
I watched them dismantle parked cars, scale large public buildings and snarl at passers by whilst I waited for Jim to return. From the top, he had spied a military airstrip nestled close to the shoreline just beyond the town.
Returning, the night market with its seafront promenade location was in full swing. Bright lights now lit the teeming streets and we blended in with the many local people having a Saturday night out, buying a huge array of street foods for the family, being barbecued, sliced, blended and sold. Jim purchased coconut and I had a bag of chopped juicy pineapple issued with a sharp stick.
We then slipped away from the busy end of the street and found a restaurant with a balcony overlooking the sea. The light had faded but little lights were reflected on the water and huge limestone hills added interest to the sea view.
The following morning I rose to see the sunrise over the bay, but it was dissapointingly cloudy at 6am!
Later we chatted to locals and took breakfast at Milano cafe in the main street which was beginning to wake up.
We were intrigued by the numbers of Europeans living here, having a second start, many with Thai wives. Houses overlooking the sea could be purchased for a song and one elderly, less than healthy, Englishman we spoke to described his week. He went to a secondhand bookstore in a larger town once a week, by tuctuc, to buy half a dozen books and to go to Tesco. He then returned to his outstanding seafront view and sat under his fans and read.
Cafes were cheap, local labour for your care needs affordable. You could see how this might be a better option on a small pension than seeing out your days in Erith or Crayford.
We also learnt that you could drive through the Five Wing military camp and across the airstrip that Jim had spied the night before and discover deserted white sandy bays with less aggressive monkeys.
The coastal parts of the base were open to the public and parts were now a beachside holiday camp for locals, in other parts rural fishermen were mending boats.
In the camp still, there was a petrol station where we filled up and encountered a couple of coaches full of Muslims having a jolly day by the sea. We had noticed many more headscarves as our journey took us South. More mosques blended in with the Buddhist temples as we approached the border with Malaysia.
We set off on our gentle reintroduction to the main road and saw a sleepier side of Thailand. We encountered the lush verdant beauty of the place, framed by fabulous sea views and white golden sandy beaches shaded with coconut palms and monkeys.
We made good time journeying South and decided to go directly to Koh Lanta island for the Sunday night. We both studied the maps and concluded that there was one ferry ride and two bridges to get to the furthest island destination. We arrived at the ferry as the sun was setting.
The gears were still not good, but we were hopeful that we would now make it and sent happy messages to the children at home preparing for Christmas in London, so far away.
Whilst crossing on the ferry, we noticed that the sky was a strange colour and the clouds in the fading light had a sort of bluish pinky hue. It looked like a storm may be brewing. I looked at the weather forecast for the coming week and it was not good.
This reminded us of a Christmas with the children we had had in Sri Lanka a few years back, when the promise of Christmas sun gave way to cyclonic unseasonal rain. Needless to say, Jim and I had a grumpy few hours whilst we digested the horrendous possibility of a repeat performance!
Later, we found a useful, very private spot to park and camp for free and had an evening meal in Patty’s secret garden cafe next door. I loved the abundant flowering orchids lining the footpath entrance. We could never do that at home. The thought of the rain was never far away.
This business was owned by another interesting Englishman, Julian from Charlton in South East London, and his Thai wife. There were tasteful baubles dangling Thai style and a decorated tree and Christmas music playing at the bar. The following morning they pursuaded us to return the next evening for a traditional Christmas dinner on a big shared table. Turkey, roast potatoes, stilton and puds! By then we will be in our nice Thai beach hotel and we can wander back for a bit of an English experience. How weird in 30 degree temperatures.