Some three months before Mum’s 80th my brother, Barry, and I got together to work out what we could organise for her. We came up with a number of ideas, amongst them were a party for family and friends, a luxury long weekend in London with fancy meals and a couple of plays or shows, a holiday or a stay in a spa. We decided that the only way to sort out the best option was to ask her. We presented her with the list and she immediately chucked out the idea of a family party on the grounds that it was too much fuss and would cause upset to anyone inadvertently missed out. By the time she went to bed, she had whittled the list down to a holiday or the London weekend.
The following morning, I took her a cup of tea in bed before I went to work. The first thing she said to me was, “I’ve made up my mind, I want a holiday in the sun.” Later that morning I phoned my brother to tell him what she wanted. Well, her birthday was early November so a holiday in “the sun” ruled out the likes of Spain or Italy, so it was time to compile another list. Mum and Dad had started taking Mediterranean holidays after a disaster of a holiday in Torquay when it had rained for 10 days out of fourteen but the farthest they had ventured was Cyprus which they had loved. So we checked the November weather and found it to be warm and sunny but with short days, so it went on the list, as did Sharm El-Sheikh. Then we thought why not include long haul, so onto the list went East Africa, the Seychelles, the Caribbean and as an afterthought my brother added Thailand that he had visited several times while working on the QE2.
Once again, Mum surveyed the list and then she looked at us and said, “Are you two really serious?” We said yes, all she had to do was pick where she wanted to go and we would book for the three of us. My brother and I would have a twin room and she could have her own room. A huge smile spread across her face and much to our surprise she said, “I want to go to Thailand. I have seen it on TV and have always thought I would like to go there.” I wondered why she had never mentioned it before?
Barry and I got down to some serious planning. He had visited Bangkok several times and the ship had made overnight stops so he knew all about the nightlife and bars but nothing about hotels or the sights to see. But Mum was going to be 80 while we were away and although she wanted to visit places and do some sightseeing, she needed to be in a good hotel with a huge swimming pool and tropical gardens. I visited a couple of travel agents and picked up an armful of brochures, some from the big people like Thompson and some from specialists who put a package together especially for you.
We finally settled on a specialist who could offer us just what we had decided we wanted. A two-centre holiday flying Heathrow to Bangkok, staying 4 nights in a luxury city centre hotel. Then on to 10 days in another luxury hotel in the beach resort of Pattaya before returning to Bangkok for the flight back to London. The flights were by the Taiwanese carrier EVA Air and we opted to pay an extra £45 each to upgrade our flights to their newly introduced Economy Plus class. The pictures of the hotels looked fabulous and we sorted out and paid for a few excursions before travelling. Barry suggested to Mum that if she had a favourite dress she should take it with her as the 24hr tailors could make a cheap copy in any material she choose.
We booked a taxi from Worthing to Heathrow on the day we were travelling which happened to be the Saturday before November 5th and enjoyed watching the fireworks as we were driven up the A24 and around the M25. Being in Economy Plus we had a separate check-in and a separate lounge. The flight took off at 23:00 and I must say the little extra we had paid to upgrade our seats was well worth it. The Economy Plus cabin was in the nose of the plane and Mum had a window seat. We had extra legroom, the seats were extra wide and reclined far more than the seats back in economy. As the 747 flew west over Windsor and then turned south the fireworks exploding below us were amazing.
Although I can’t remember now what the in-flight dinner was, I do remember it was excellent. The trip was nonstop to Bangkok where it was to be on the ground for a couple of hours before flying on to Taipei. After dinner, the lights were dimmed to allow people to sleep away the 12-hour flight. I reclined my seat and drifted off to sleep. At one point I woke up and within seconds a flight attendant was at my side checking that everything was OK and asking if I wanted a snack or a drink. She had a tray of Taiwanese Pot Noodles, I chose a glass of chilled orange juice!
About two hours before landing, breakfast was served, cornflakes with cold milk and an omelette, bacon, sausage and tomato. I remember this as one of the best meals I have ever had on a plane. The flight landed at about six in the evening local time and the tour operator picked us up in a minibus and took us to the hotel. The traffic in Bangkok was incredible, early evening was bedlam, cars, vans, minibuses, buses, trucks and tuk-tuks were everywhere. The driver pointed out our hotel from about a mile away, it was unmistakable a 40 story tower with a glass lift up the outside. Mum said, “I want to try that lift.” Barry was not so sure.
The hotel reception was located on the first floor, the ground floor being a shopping arcade. The mini-bus drove up the slope to the reception level and bellboys grabbed the luggage and loaded it on a cart while a flunky led us to reception to check-in. Our rooms were on the third floor. Barry and I had been allocated a corner room. Well, really it was a suite with two en-suite bedrooms and a lounge. Mum was next door where her ‘room’ consisted of a huge en-suite bedroom and a lounge. Mum wanted to try out the massive double bed and sat down on it and immediately yelled. She had sat on and broken her glasses!
It was now 8 o’clock at night and Mum was panicking, worrying about a fortnight with broken glasses. A receptionist directed to us into the shopping mall on street level where there were two opticians. The first one we came to was open and the little man who greeted us said the lenses were undamaged and could be transferred to new frames. Mum picked some out and he said come back in an hour and they would be ready! We found a nice bar in the mall and waited. An hour later the glasses were ready, the man fussed around making sure the fit was perfect, adjust the arms before charging her around £10.
We had a couple of trips out booked in Bangkok. One day we went to Wat Pho and the Grand Palace, which was unmissable, and returned via a trip on the monorail which had a station a hundred yards from our hotel. Mum just loved the trip to the floating market which was our second excursion. We could see the night market from our hotel room windows and had a wander around but bought nothing.
The glass elevator that ran up the outside of the building started in the middle of reception and went out through its ceiling. It went directly to the top floor bar and restaurant, a great experience with wonderful views over the city, particularly when everywhere was lit up at night, a tremendous place to eat and drink. On our third night in Bangkok, we planned to visit a bar-restaurant a few miles away that had been recommended to us by some other Brits in the hotel. However, just after dark it started to rain and did it rain. Looking out at the night market it must have been under 18 inches of water, but the stallholders were still there and open for business.
By eight o’clock the rain had disappeared as quickly as it arrived and we grabbed a cab to the bar/restaurant. It was well worth the trip, food and drinks were around a quarter the price of the hotel which we thought was incredibly cheap. The steaks were fantastic and there was Champions League (or whatever it was called in those days) footie on the TV!
We looked for a taxi back to the hotel, but none being around be took a pair of tuk-tuks. Now that was an experience. I’m sure the drivers thought they were racing drivers, whizzing through the wet streets and cutting in and out of the traffic. But two tuk-tuks back to the hotel cost half the taxi fare getting there.
We really enjoyed our stay in Bangkok but were ready to move on to the coast for a rest. The tour operator’s minibus was ready and waiting for us for the two-hour ride to Pattaya. Again a fabulous hotel with an enormous reception area. As we walked in a Thai girl approached us and introduced herself as ‘Apple’ our courier. Apple took our passports and headed to the desk to check us in. I watched her call over a waiter and iced water and chilled Coca-Cola arrived almost instantly.
Once again the rooms were wonderful with views over the pool and the hotel’s tropical garden. After a few busy days in Bangkok, Mum was happy to have some time lazing by the pool in the sun reading her books. We suggested a shopping trip so that she could get the dress she wanted underway. We were close to Walking Street, notorious at night but full of ordinary shops as well. We looked at several tailor shops before settling for ‘Motta the Tailor’. The moment we entered the shop a chair appeared for Mum. She produced the dress she wanted copied and it was quickly confirmed that it was a simple task but the price would depend on the material chosen. In the end, she had got it down to two materials, one cotton and one silk. She whispered to us which she went with would depend on the cost. The shopkeeper went over to the counter and did a few calculations. The custom made cotton dress would be the equivalent of around £15 and in the chosen silk it would be £20. She decided to have both!
While mum sorted out the details, Barry and I had a good look around and we both decided to buy a suit. My two-piece in a chosen blue cloth cost me about £35 while Barry decided on a £40 three-piece. The shopkeeper asked if we were in a rush, we said we were in Pattaya for nine more days and the shopkeeper laughed. He said he meant did we want the items in less than 24 hours! He promised to come to the hotel the following afternoon for a fitting.
Walking back to the hotel another tailor had an exquisite blazer in the window. I had to have one, £20 and ready the next evening after six o’clock. While I was being measured, Mum found a rack of reversible embroidered silk kimonos and bought one for herself and one for a present for a friend. They were under £5 each but as she was buying 2 the bill came to under £8.
While walking, Barry and I spotted an artist advertising portraits from photos. Just what we wanted. We had slipped a formal head and shoulders photo of Mum out of an album and planned all along to get a portrait of her done to present her on her birthday. I slipped back to Walking Street a little later when it was just dark and the girlie bars were opening up for the evening. It was a different world from the afternoon trip and twice as busy. I organised the painting to be done in oils and agreed a size and price. It would take 36 hours so would be ready well before Mum’s birthday. I think I paid around £30, I hate to think what it would have cost in Britain.
Mum’s Birthday Present
As promised, Motta the Tailor turned up mid-afternoon for the fitting. Mum’s dresses were perfect and she was delighted. Our suits were looking good and needed minor adjustments and finishing off. If we popped into the shop at seven that evening they would be ready. At seven in the evening, Walking Street was even busier. Motta the Tailor’s had at least six assistants on duty with several men being measured for suits. Motta greeted us like old friends, we tried on the suits and they were great, mine fitted like a glove. The suits went into suit bags we set off back towards the hotel. I popped in to collect my navy blue blazer with brass buttons and a fake YSL lining. We arrived back at the hotel in need of a cold drink. Mum wanted to see the suits and on opening the bags we found not only the suits but hand made white short sleeve shirts, with a Motta logo on the top edge of the breast pocket and silk ties to match the suit. I have never come across that level of service in the UK.
When I collected the portrait it was just like the photo and captured Mum perfectly. I also purchased a pair of small local paintings of fishing communities. They are signed Pong, but I suspect that in a back street of Bangkok there is a sweatshop churning out Pong’s for the tourist trade. When it came to Mum’s birthday we presented her with the portrait, she was delighted and it came as a complete surprise to her.
A Genuine Pong
We only undertook one excursion while in Pattaya, a trip to an elephant home. There were orphaned baby elephants, retired working elephants, elephant rides and even an elephant football match. It was fascinating and a really enjoyable afternoon spent with these gentle giants.
Back home I had one thing left to do. I had promised Mum I would have her portrait professionally framed. I took it in to a local framer in Worthing. He charged me nearly twice the cost of the portrait and took a fortnight to do it. That portrait still hangs in my living room, reminding me of my now-dead mother.