Dan Went down to Georgia: Day I

Back in May, the lady and I went to Georgia. No, not the Peach State, in the US of A. The one in the Caucasus, next to Russia. Of course, May being close to February, the war in Ukraine was fresh in most minds and my mother was very concerned that we would be in danger. So it was easy to assure here that we’d be very safe from the Russian army as they had already invaded Georgia, back in 2008.

Georgia is a small country, there are only about four million Georgians, but they have a long history. They have their own wacky language and even wackier alphabet, a strong literary tradition, a fierce sense of independence and an 8,000-year long wine tradition. We, of course, went for the wine.

They have a zillion varieties of grape that nobody has ever heard of as well.

The flight is done and we have been picked up by the hotel. Let’s check in.

Class hey? This flophouse started as the Hotel Majestic, back in 1915, and has played host to the famous and infamous over its life, also serving as WWI hospital, union hall and a cinema. There is a parade of notables who have stayed here but the only one I remember is Margret Thatcher who must have come for a dirty weekend or something. Speaking of which…

The room was very nice, a classic. I love old apartments, hotels and so on, but what’s with the big, hemispherical mirror on the bedhead? I puzzled over this for many minutes before concluding that it’s so the people operating the camera behind it can get a better angle. Nice. Let’s go get breakfast.

Ahhh, nothing like a champagne breakfast. Sorry it’s a bit blurry but we’re never our best first thing in the morning. Luckily there’s a healthy alternative.

Yes, that’s one’s blurry too. They do actually serve food and it was good. Not good enough to photograph but good. One welcome surprise was a big bowl of fresh strawberries. In Bangkok they’re big and tasteless but these were small, sweet and plentiful everywhere we went.

Most of day #1 was taken up with the walking tour. It’s free, leaves from Freedom Square at 10am and is conducted by a young Georgian lady. She gave us a quick rundown on Georgian history, which is basically that it keeps getting invaded by the Russians, who are a pack of shitbags.

Our Guide
Our Guide

The tour takes in the old part of town, which is narrow streets and old houses. Much of it is in poor repair as the place is prone to earthquakes although some neighbourhoods have been renovated and done up nicely.

This one isn’t renovated. It’s an old Armenian merchant’s place (the house is old, 140 years or so, not the merchant, although I guess he would be pretty old if he was still about) that was seized and chopped up into apartments by the Bolsheviks.

For a tourist the city is very walkable with a park/museum street, shopping area, the old town and then the hot springs all topped off by the fortress on the hill. These all join up so one need not negotiate the subway system or taxis. There’s this funky footbridge that joins up some of the tourist zones.

The city seems to be pretty safe, there’s a few pushy touts about but you get them everywhere. However, there are these enormous hunting dogs all over.

These are strays but that doesn’t mean they’re not looked after. The city vaccinates them and puts a plastic tag through their ear. They’re friendly and like to follow you about. We had a lovely one for our walking tour.

Another other tourist notable is the clocktower.

Tbilisi Clocktower

In an afternoon of the tourguide quizzing us on the age of various buildings and artifacts around the old town (why do they do that? Isn’t it their job to know?) I was relived to find that the clocktower is a recent addition, going up in 2011 and has a puppet theatre in its base. It also has figures that come out and ring the bell upon the hour.

The old town is great for wandering about and trying out little bars and restaurants. All tight streets and old buildings.

Face on stone wall

Another big tourist draw is the chance to see the city from the air. You could take the gas balloon:

Tbilisi gas balloon

It’s on a tether and apparently gives a fine view of the town. We didn’t try it out as there’s a superior, cheaper option.

Yeah, you can take a cablecar to the top of the mountain. It’s amazing. Not just from the gondola but walking around town there would be the occasional shadow of the car moving overhead. Oh, the view from the car is great too. Best thing is, it’s part of the public transport system so you just need a local PT card. Very cheap and worth many rides.

View of Tbilisi

That’s the view from the top and it is not bad. At the top of the hill is the fortress, which is my first in-person encounter with medieval fortifications that have seen actual assaults. Looking at the walls and slope, I’d prefer to be on defence.

Tbilisi citadel
Try climbing up there under arrow-fire.

Here it is in photosphere.

You’ll find this lady up there too:

Mother of Georgia

That’s the sword-wielding Mother of Georgia, a big silver statue on a hill that’s hard to photograph from up close. There’s a sharp drop in front of her, as you can see here:

One can get a photo of her from the front but not close up.

Mother of Georgia
That’s on film, by the way. That’s why it’s grainy, the colours aren’t right and the exposure is off.
Tbilisi cable car
There’s one of those cable cars again.

Here’s another view from the top, some chap’s critique on religion I expect, but to be honest, there’s so much graffiti in Georgia that I want to invest in spraypaint imports.

Tbilisi does seem to be caked in grafitti, but some of it is pretty cool.

These chaps are all over the city at construction sites and other handy surfaces. It gives the city a vibrancy to see these ultimately public artworks on an ultimately banal hoarding. Here’s some more:

I mean, it’s pretty cool.
You can see this fucker’s stickers all over Asia as well.

It seems that we’re looking at colour digital photos now so let’s look at some of the more interesting ones, like this one:

So, nice old building? Bit boring, but it is in this former seminary one Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, Georgia’s most famous son who once studied for the priesthood within these very walls. Did I say famous? Perhaps infamous is a better word, he’d later go by Joseph Stalin. It was in this building that the young ‘Kuba’ was radicalised by a forbidden book club. The rest, as they say, is history. Horrible, blood-soaked, paranoid history. Let’s look a the Bridge of Peace instead.

Bridge of Peace
Cable car gondola
There’s that cable car again.
View from cable car
And here’s the view from the same.

Georgia is all about wine, they’re very proud of it. Here in the old town there are grape vines on the houses.

Arty old town.

One of the other main tourist bits is the hot springs. These are very old, like, from Ottoman times and before. Indeed, the city gets its name, ‘warm place’, from the springs.

See that one that looks like a mosque?

This one.

That’s the one Miss Sachie went to. It certainly looks fancy but it’s cheaper than the other ones we looked at. They’re the more traditional domed structures.

Like this.
Or this.

I confess that I didn’t partake of steam baths or massage as I need to be very drunk indeed to take off my clothes in public.

Speaking of which, it was a nice sunny day in a charming old city — far too nice to spend walking about doing tourist stuff, let’s get a nice cold beer.

Even the view from the little café is of old houses stuffed with charm.

So Day One was a lot of walking and seeing new stuff. In the evening we went out with our friend Will, who lives in Tbilisi, to a fancy wine bar but it was a bit naff as it was the sommelier’s night off. We’ll catch up with Will later in the trip though, so look out for Day II!

I Need to go Phi Phi: Part III

It’s time to wrap up this travel trilogy. We were there in November 2020 and it’s March now. There’s other things to write up, new adventures to be had and other tales to be told.

Other Stuff

Koh Phi Phi is an island, the clue is in the name (Koh means island in Thai), and of course that means stunning beaches, blue waters, palm trees and so on. But there’s other things for the intrepid traveller to do off and out of the water. Just ask these guys:

In normal times, non-aquatic activities apparently extend to beer-pong, exploring, excess and unconsciousness. I guess the last two are still on the cards, but drinking yourself under the table isn’t a good look, so let’s find another way to spend our daylight hours. Time to do some research.

Mostly to scale, except the boats.

How about some shopping in town?

Shopping in town isn’t as much fun as it should be. Mostly everything is shut and the shops that are open are all selling the same tat. We bought a couple of fridge magnets for the collection and moved on. Walk along the beach?

Well, I got the photo I came for, wish it was sunny. What now? Surprisingly, there’s a jungly and mountainous interior to the island and rumour of a lookout point worth looking from. Miss Sachie and I prepared for a tough hike by donning flip-flops, discarding water bottles and scraping off sunscreen. Time to hit the trail.

There’s a surprising amount of inland on this island. We were staying in spitting distance of the beach (well, I could spit on the beach but Miss Sachie says such pursuits are adolescent) and this walk showed just how much development there is there. Check out the sailfish on these lightpoles –beautiful. The town slowly petered out and patches of green peeked from the side of the very steep road. The road leads to the other town on Phi Phi, where the locals live. You could say this is the new town. After the 2014 tsunami wiped the low-lying beachside town off the map, the natives rebuilt up the hill, which is understandable. It’s served by a real road that has actual cars! Well, pickup trucks. How do they get them on the road? It’s not like there’s a route from the pier.

We met a dog by the side of the road. The dog showed some interest in us and started walking up a side path, stopping to see if we followed. Intrigued and credulous, we did. Maybe a child was stuck in a well? Along winding footpaths and up rugged stairs we followed our pooch past cheap guesthouses, dilapidated bars and a completely rusted-out, open-air gym. As we walked I reflected on the ghosted patrons of these businesses, all deserted now. I suppose these are the cheap seats, for folks who can only afford a sea view from a distance and are satisfied with a slower, more languid pace of life. Dope smokers. After a time, our guide had apparently reached his destination and settled down to lick his testicles. I’d been hoping that he would take us to a bent-backed old man who would serve us yaa-dong and tell us stories of the spirits that inhabit the nearby bungalows and bars but it was not to be. Instead…

It’s the reservoir that serves the island. Typically, Phi Phi suffers from a lack of fresh water but this one is right up to the spillway. I guess it’s a nice view but I don’t know why the dog brought us here, time to press on.

We later found that our route was the dumb one. Longer, hotter and steeper. But it did afford us proper jungle trekking, especially when it became dirt, then clay, then holes. A roadsign warned of crossing monkeys, so I looked around and picked up a sturdy monkey-stick. Cresting one ridge, we came face-to-face with a foul roadblock.

Sorry for the poor photo, but I had other things on my mind.

Legend has it that the Romans used geese as sentries due to their alertness, noise and general bad attitude. I’ve rumbled with geese before but these guys had a turkey in the gang. No thanks! Luckily, they were being kept under supervision by this chap:

The Phi Phi Chicken dog.

After much huffing, puffing and complaining, we arrived at Phi Phi viewpoint #3. Apparently we took the back way.

I can see my house from here.

It’s quite a view. There’s a little shop open and a big cafe that isn’t. They don’t sell beer (dang it) and there’s a strict no-alcohol policy, which is probably a good thing as that platform you can see in the panorama above has no railing. I got a WhatsApp message from my mum and thought it a good time to give her a video call so she could enjoy the magnificent view and the spectacle of a monkey being chased away from the bins.

Under the viewpoint there’s a kind of park, with the mandated giant painted concrete fruits. I expect that it is quite striking when on mushrooms.

Here’s a rare photo of Miss Sachie and your author.

Following the path downhill we visited lookouts #2 and #1 and discovered that the staircase to these lookouts ends basically next to our hotel, so we definitely took the long way.

Island of Cats

They say that cats were domesticated about 7,500 years ago, probably in Egypt. Egypt would be a good candidate due to the vast quantities of sand in which to dispose of their leavings. I have some experience in this area, currently caring for seven of the fluffy little shitbags at home.

Phi Phi town is infested with Felis catus, they’re all over the place — in doorways, up trees, on the path, off the path, everywhere. In stunning numbers too, I counted more than 20 on one walk through town.

This cat has a t-shirt. He’s the one that gave me a scare in the pool on the first day. A large mammal wearing clothes, glanced from the corner of my eye had me scrambling to see if a monkey had stolen my sunglasses.

Bar cat here is one of the finer examples and in very good condition. In fact, I didn’t see any cats looking scratched up or diseased. Most looked quite well taken care of. They say (the same they as above) that cats are considered special under Islam because Mohammad was a cat man (that is, he fancied cats, not that he was some strange man/cat hybrid. The last thing I need is ISIS on my case!) He certainly wasn’t a dog person. So the cats get a pretty easy go of things. Indeed, some locals were putting out collections to buy food for them. I must confess I didn’t donate. I have mixed feelings about cats.

I had pet cats until I left home and I have them now. Unfortunately, I have learned the hard way that, left to their own devices, they will breed and breed and breed until they dominate their ecological niche — in this case my living room. Now I, like apparently everyone else on the internet, am entranced by their soft coat, graceful curves and languid, sultry attitude. They remind me of the bad-yet-hot girlfriend we all had shortly after high school. But in my native Australia, feral or stray cats are little murder machines that devastate the local population of small animals. I expect the same is true in Phi Phi town. I didn’t see a single gecko, but I didn’t see any cockroaches either.

I don’t like to judge other peoples but I’m going to anyway, an uncontrolled cat population on a tropical island just can’t be a good thing. Luckily, some things are being done with this Quora post saying that 800 (!) had been vaccinated in 10 days. Hopefully they spayed a few as well.

On the whole, the cats aren’t a problem for the visitor. I saw very little cat poo and the whole place did not reek of cat piss, unlike my living room. Unfortunately the island has a reputation for reeking of human piss during normal times, probably due to overtaxed septic tanks. Anyway, let’s get me on the front page of Google by posting a bunch of cat pictures.

Many shops have cat pit-stops like this. I would guess that each place has it’s favourites that make their range in these shopfronts.
Is this cat prostituting itself? Ha ha. I’ve always liked black cats but never owned one, although the neighbour has one that has basically adopted me.
I think it was this one that jumped in my lap and tried to eat the calamari off my plate at dinner one night.
Temple cat? No, it’s a rustic bar.

And that’s enough about cats. They are definitely a feature of staying on Phi Phi and must be remarked upon. There’s just so many of them.

And that’s pretty much it. We travelled to Phi Phi as I had very much enjoyed it back in the early 2000s and we would never be able to afford the place in normal times. I can say that I enjoyed it on this visit too. For the future? I would hope that the island uses this slow period as a reset point and has a good think about what they want their island to be in the future. I can’t get behind the party-central plan of the past — it’s a cheap (actually not, kind of expensive) and ugly commercial saturation. I’m sure many folks made a lot of money while the sun was shining but… Does this place really need a McDonalds? That said, I don’t condone making it a enclave of expensive, hi-so resorts. Some restraints on development, some planning and a unified goal of what the destination wants to deliver would go a long way to making the island a more sustainable and pleasant place to visit. The island has been devastated by the pandemic but there’s the kernel of opportunity to remake this place as a better, matured, island destination.

I Need to go Phi Phi: Part II

We’re back on Koh Phi Phi for the tale of the November 2020 visit by and Miss Sachie and me. Are you comfortably seated and properly hydrated? Good, let us begin.

Killing Time & Recreation

So, you’ve got your bed and a belly full of fried rice and are looking for something to do before you can crack a beer with a clear conscience. Let’s go for a swim.

It’s a damn nice beach. It’s taken a bashing over the years but is still lovely and, at the moment, it’s all yours. The bay is very shallow and low tide means a long walk. There’s some rocks and coral offshore so it’s time to strap on a snorkel and get the soles of your feet sunburnt.

Don’t tread on me.
Or us.

There’s a ton of these offshore that had Miss Sachie smacking her lips. There’s not loads of fish but we saw a few parrot fish and lots of little ones.

The astute reader will notice that I was taking photographs underwater. No, I didn’t get my phone wet and I didn’t take some large-format bellows camera down with me, Miss Sachie bought a waterproof digital camera when she went to the Red Sea. I immediately relieved her of this — as a photographer I am immensely more qualified than her to take poorly composed, mediocre stills and shaky video. Here’s an example:

This one makes me look like Stanley Kubrik compared to most of what I shot. That is, most of it is me forgetting to stop the recording so there’s lots of footage of water, sky and that sort of thing. Kind of like how your dad mostly took video of his feet with his first video camera.

This little fish could see his reflection in my diving mask and, thinking it another fish, moved in to attack. Ha ha, stupid fish!

Here’s a seahorse.

I’ve never seen one in the wild before and it really made the trip for me. Probably the best bit was that, while we were heading for the rocks on the side of the bay to look for something interesting I noticed a dark patch of water, indicating more rocks. Swimming over we discovered it was a huge shoal of tiny fish that swirled around us. Thousands of them. Magic. But that’s nothing compared to when we finally gave in and got a boat.

On the Boat

The thing to do if you’re on Phi Phi is drink until you vomit out of your nose take a boat trip around Phi Phi Ley. The other Koh Phi Phi. The little one. The very, very nice one. Lots of people from Phuket and Krabi take day trips to stare, slack-jawed, at the immense limestone karsts erupting from the crystal waters and to dive in said waters, to gaze, slack-jawed at the schools of colourful fish and jewelled corals beneath. It’s really something and I can’t recommend it enough. If you want to go on a boat trip I recommend talking to this chap:

This is Bo and his boat is the Ning Il Ham.

This isn’t it.
This isn’t it either.

It turns out I don’t have a photo of the boat, or it’s on my film camera, so you’ll have to wait. It’s a longtail and it’s not made of ham, sorry. Walking on the beach and in the town one gets touted for boat trips a lot. At the moment it’s about Bt1,000 an hour but one can get a three hour trip for Bt1,500 with a bit of bargaining. We paid Bt2,000. The deal is that you put-put out on a longtail on a sunny day and your skipper will pull up at certain spots and let you have a swim. We thought we’d have each to ourselves but even in these benighted times we had to share the snorkelling sites with other visitors. Here’s the trip out:

Sorry about the poor streaming but this whole site is about cheap hosting.

Here’s the view to the stern:

Here’s what happens if you take a panorama from a moving vehicle:

Which I think is cool. As I mentioned earlier, the island is a series of karsts poking out of the sea. Apparently it’s part of an old coral reef that extends through here and Krabi, and further into the middle of Thailand and up and out of Vietnam. Big reef. Old reef. A rock-climber’s wet dream.

Rock-climbers are a special breed, very enthusiastic with an almost erotic relationship to rockfaces and are very enamoured of ropes, big shiny shackles, harnesses and other instruments of bondage. Consider the following as rock-pornography:

Right. Hope you enjoyed that. Feeling relaxed? A bit sweaty? Need to tidy up a little before the girlfriend gets back from work? Good, we will proceed. Here’s the first stop, Viking Cave.

No, there’s no Vikings here, no even the modern Nordic families who come to Thailand on their three-month annual-leave vacations. But the sea floor is littered with horned helmets and longboats. Ha ha, not really. This is the home of the swallow-like swift, an industrious small bird who builds its nests from its own spit.

Now, pause to look around you. You are probably in your own residence. Perhaps you even built your own log cabin in the remote wilderness of, I don’t know, Arizona or something. Now imagine making everything out of your own saliva. Walls, floors, doors, the lot (and don’t even think about what the neighbours may say!) But that’s what these little birds do, through hard work, persistence, and spit. But why did we stop here? Because this is a historic locus of human industry, where brave men would hang from ropes or climb flimsy ladders to gather said bird nests so that all of us can enjoy the delicate dish of bird’s nest soup. Gross, hey?

These days it’s a more of a tourist-trap than an operating swift-spit mine as they (people) now build massive concrete towers on the coast (on the way to Hua Hin, a trip which I must write up sometime) and play birdsong to attract swifts to nest and make the gathering of their nests a lucrative pursuit. But I digress. Let’s get wet.

In we go.

As soon as the boat pulls up it’s surrounded by fish. I expect our scaly friends are used to boats dropping anchor here as they swarm around the hull and are welcome companions on our dive.

That’s nothing! There’s normally scores of them around you.

I have no idea what these hand-sized and striped fish are called, but they are very friendly.

I was completely charmed, until near the end of the swim when they started taking nips from me. Maybe that’s why they swarm the boat.

Now, I’ve seen more and better fish and more and better coral. Years of mass tourism has bashed it up a bit but it’s still a lovely sight in a lovely part of the world.

Stripy fish.
Still stripy, but different.

Now who are these guys? Is it Nemo and his dad?

Maybe not.

OK, let’s move along to Pileh Lagoon. What’s that? Well let’s step inside.

Looks like there’s a few more boats here, must be a popular place.

Oh I say! This is a nice part of the world. The lagoon is like something out of… well I really don’t really know how to describe it. A shallow bay with a tight entrance and a shallow bottom and shockingly-clear waters.

It’s pretty nice. It’s really nice! It’s probably the most beautiful sight I have seen. Bury me here. Here’s a video.

Let’s go for a swim.

Yum Yum. Coral!
Spots, not stripes.
Not a rubber children’s toy, or is it?
That’s a pufferfish puffing. It wasn’t me that startled it, I think. Pretty cool though.
Out of my way fish!
On the way out I saw a barracuda.

OK, that’s enough of our fishy friends, out we go.

Now we’re off to Maya Bay, shooting location of The Beach.

Maya Bay, along with James Bond Island (the shooting location for the final scenes of The Man with the Golden Gun), is one of the most popular places to visit on the Andaman coast, or even Thailand itself. As far as The Beach goes, I read the book before the movie was made and I recall during production there was criticism of damage done to the foreshore, but that was nothing compared to what came after. The movie was popular and every shallow asshole in the world came to Haad Maya to leave litter and otherwise screw up the beach. These days the national parks service won’t let you land on the beach and you have to pay a fee (Bt400 for us Farangs) to have a swim. Here it is:

There was one corner of the bay we could have a swim in deep water and shallows. Remember the barracuda I saw earlier, there’s a ton here.

I also saw a school of squid swimming about, which is a first for me. Bo was very excited when I told him but seemed a bit disappointed there were only six. Now, remember these guys?

Well, it turns out that they bite. The little buggers became bold and started taking nips at me. I guess they’re some kind of cleaner fish that nibble dead skin or scabs off you. An essential service if you’re some kind of big fish, especially if afflicted by parasites, but the only parasites on me are likely up my ass so I warned them to keep their distance. Time to go.

After rounding this… peak? Bo asked “Do you want to see the monkey?” I was about to say that we were very flattered but didn’t want to see his monkey when I recalled that the last stop on this trip is Monkey Island. Monkey Beach or something like that. We consented and were exposed to the monkeys.

Well, macaques.

It’s my understanding that these are crabeater macaques, which are much beloved by the scientific community for their utility in experimentation. They’re a tough and adaptable primate that will accept all sorts of abuses without immediately perishing. My experiment was to see if they’d eat my apple core.

Now it was back to shore for a well deserved cold beer after doing our bit to prop up tourism in these challenging times. I’ve been a bit slow writing this chapter, will try harder for part three, coming soon!

I Need to go Phi Phi: Part I

Back in 2003 a fresh-faced young photographer from FARANG magazine visited Koh Phi Phi, on Thailand’s Andaman coast for the first time. I was stunned by its natural beauty, gigantic krasts crowned by green jungle thrust from crystal waters and were accommodated by a cheerful backpacker village on the sandbar between said limestone mountains. We only stayed a night, it was all we could afford on our thousand-baht peridium.

Back in 2003.

The village got wiped out by the 2004 tsunami and by the time the tourists retuned I didn’t have the opportunity or couldn’t afford to go back, but the dream remained.

Stunning waters.

The 2020 pandemic provided an opportunity. Miss Sachie had her holidays already booked and was supposed to go to Hawaii but that was off. As we cast around for a Thai destination that could compare I recalled that wonderful trip 17 years ago.

Another shot from 2003.

November 2020 was the perfect time. Over the years, Phi Phi had evolved into a party-island. Hotel reviews spoke of loud music late into the night and eyewitness accounts spoke of drunken vomiting and public urination — probably not for me, these days, and not for the lady. Also, being a destination for the young and credulous, we couldn’t afford it in normal times, but now it was on its knees.

It all seemed a little heathier then.

Getting There

Bangkok Airways is a good deal at the moment, unintuitively. Bt5,000 each return to Krabi then a race to the pier to get the ferry to the island. Both trips are fairly comfortable, but require an early start. Accommodation was a ‘pool villa’ (actually one of a number of luxury bungalows around what was a very nice pool). We got this for Bt2,000 a night, which is not bad when there is two of us. God knows what it costs in normal times, probably a lot and certainly out of our range — we would be in the dorm.

The Town

The backpacker colony of my youth had been rebuilt into a mixture of bucket-bars, banana-pancake joints and large, club-med type resorts. It’s the pier and the town that makes your first impression of the island so I’ll cover them here. The pier is good, look down at the pilings and you can see seaweed streamers, fish and where they bury themselves into the sand — the water is like glass. The town put me in the mind of chicken-corner in Haad-Rin on full-moon party night, or it would have if I’d been there at two in the morning and out of my head on diet pills. Now the town has been devastated. Have you ever seen a 7/11 just shut down due to lack of custom? Phi Phi has two. McDonalds, Burger King, The Pizza Company, banks, pharmacies and countless tiny bars and food-joints are shuttered. The place hasn’t been decimated (reduced by one tenth), it’s devastated. Miss Sachie commented that it looked like the set of a zombie film.

At least you’re not stuck behind one of Thailand’s dreaded slow-walkers.

I can’t say that it’s a very beautiful town. It scores points for being pedestrian-friendly, indeed there are no roads (there are roads, well, a road, on the island but you have to go looking for it) but it is commercially dense, dense, dense. It’s also very battered from years of party-town and, er, improvised construction. Think of a nightclub seen in daylight.

More like dead bar, apologies to the operator.
Doubt you’ll get a work permit working at this place.
Guess the bucket index crashed around March.
It’s kind of like a silent tsunami.

We stayed at Ibiza Resort, famous for its pool parties and and vomit-slick dorms (I’m guessing on that last one, but dorms on an island?) It was damn nice for us though, as we were the only ones there. It’s a 30-second walk to the beach, which we had to ourselves. Loh Dalum beach is the main swimming beach, while Ton Sai has the pier and boats.

Here it is, back in the day.

Normally the former is full of sun-drenched bodies, tattooed muscle and cigarette buts. I’m making up the last one, well, making them all up but given the littler still washing up it’s not a stretch. The thing is, it’s one of the most beautiful beaches/bays in the world. This is the place I fell in love with in my first year of living in Thailand and Miss Sachie and I were the only ones on the beach, if you don’t count the sea-eagles fishing offshore or the waders seeing anchovies.

And that what it looks like when you have it to yourself.

Food, Booze & Bed

We stayed at Ibiza House, kind of. Ibiza is host to the pool party but they also have the more sedate Rawianda Villas. It’s pretty nice.

Regular readers will spot the sunbird nest hanging from the blind in the top-right of the photo.

Back when I travelled alone price and location was my primary concern and I have many tales of scummy flophouses, but when one travels with a lady it does to raise standards.

Many a can was cracked here.

I really can’t recommend this place enough, it’s the nicest pool I have been in for some time. Speaking of pools, here’s the party pool.

I expect that prior visitors will find this view disarming. Didn’t swim in it but they kept the jets on all day. Now to drink.

I don’t have a good photo of the Cottage Bar, but it’s your pretty standard beach bar. It’s lovely, and quiet. It also happens to be the only bar open on the beach when we are there, although another opened before we left — fireshows. The path to the resort is just behind the bar, in this photo, and is the said 30-second walk from the room. Perfect. You may notice a cat in this photo, more on them later.

There is really nothing better in the world than a good beach bar, well parenthood is pretty good but if you have your kids bring you beers and empty the ashtray, like the staff do here, then child-services take them away from you. Each evening we would sit here, drinking discount larger and watching the tide come in on an empty beach. When it got dark, the lights came on.

Yep, massive sodium-vapour lamps transplanted from a freeway to this beach to keep drunken backpackers stepping on broken glass or something. Indeed, there is a security vibe on the island, lots of CCTV. I assume that it’s a reaction to the 2014 murder of two tourists on Koh Tao. Indeed, there was a CCTV camera pointed at our balcony/patio thing. Pretty sure most of them aren’t working by now. Koh Phi Phi also has what I concluded are panic boxes, a button and a camera that you can push to get help when in distress. The highway lamps were a bit of a shame as I wanted to have a good look at the stars while I was there but it was cloudy most nights anyway.

Now to food. Miss Sachie had done her research and we had a checklist of restaurants to visit and pindrops on Google Maps to assist in navigation. Sadly, this preparation and the anticipation was for naught as the majority were shut. Himalaya and Royal Tandoori look like they are gone forever but Clover House is open and has a DJ at night. We breakfasted most days at Patcharee Bakery, which was pretty good. The really winner is Efe, the Turkish place. In our visit, this was the finest chow-house on the island and also probably the best place we have eaten at in months. Anyway, here’s another photo from the beach bar.

That’s it for today, hope you enjoyed it. Remember that we were there in November 2020 and things can be expected to change pretty quick. Indeed, by the end of the week things were picking up around town so who knows what it’s like now. Stay tuned for part two.

Photospheres and Panoramas from France

As I couldn’t take my children with me on my first visit to the continent, I took a lot of immersive photospheres and panorama shots so that I could show them what it was like via the miracle of Google Cardboard. It starts at the palace of Versailles.

Here’s what the photospheres look like:

I apologise in advance. You’ll notice that the this photosphere contains many chops and changes and many people in bits. That’s because these images are made by stitching together many flat photos that are mapped onto a sphere. Neat hey? Unfortunately it takes many photos, camera movement causes poor stitching and it takes a while, which is why that tour guide looks pissed off with me.

Here’s the gift shop, I knew you’d like that. Here’s another view with the panorama plugin. Sadly, you need a mouse so you phone and touch users are out of luck.

Here’s a nice one, have a look at the roof

Speaking of ceilings, they’re all pretty good at Versailles. I was inspired to use the panorama function of my phone to take a photo of a few. Should look pretty good? You decide.

Versailles

While we’re in the field of experimentation, let’s see how my terrible, terrible hosting handles video.

Had enough? Let’s try another.

That’s a nice seal, but what’s happening to the right?

Time for another panorama, a little one. Any good manse has a red room and in this palace it’s the king’s bedroom, and I’m not talking about Elvis.

It’s a bit crowded, but nothing like when the place was in use by its occupant. When this guy was in charge he had an audience and venal positions for folks to hand him a shirt and hold his bedpan for his morning movement.

Chances are, the room was changed since Lou 14 was farting up the place.

Now for the big one, the Hall of Mirrors.

The Hall of Mirrors is large, crowded and not that spectacular. We are used to mirrors now, in fact some of us are scared of them. In it’s day it was a marvel of precision engineering and used to impress savages honoured visitors. Let’s have a look at the roof.

Nice, now let’s have a look at my feet.

Sweet.

Here’s the full expereince.

What’s that? You want to see more bedrooms? OK, here’s one fit for a queen, I think. No en-suite but back then people just crapped in pots or wherever.

Time for a rest. When you visit the museum you’re on a one-way route through the structure, rather that being left to wander about opening doors and peeking under the beds. It’s crowded and tiring so it’s nice to have a seat in this gallery and view the enormous paintings.

These paintings depict battles and major military actions from France’s and are arranged chronologically.

Now let’s head outside, here’s a look at the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette’s weekend retreat from the splendour and scheming of Versailles.

Versailles is more than a palace, it contains extensive and elegant gardens, and wide spaces and fields. It’s nice.

Finally, here’s a look at the palace in all its glory on a sunny day in France.

Now, let’s move along. After Versailles we moved to Chessy, right next to Euro Disneyland. Sachie went to Disneyland, I went back to Paris. Here’s a look at the Seine.

And here’s an old lady singing on the bridge.

Here’s a look from outside the Louvre at the little Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, just outside the Louvre.

This it what it looks like outside the Louvre.

My goal that day was to visit the army museum, or the Musée de l’Armée, which is an old military hospital, nice one too.

The first room I walked into was full. Full! of miniatures and as an old wargaming hand I was in heaven.

Wait until you see the landscapes upstairs.

The museum is pretty great and probably deserves its own post. At the back there is a domed chapel.

Who’s down there? Let’s take a peek.

It’s Napoleon.

Here’s a look out the front of the museum. Nice on a hot day.

Here’s another look at the river. Now off to the Louvre.

Now off to Reims to see the other Notre Dame. This one is in better shape, having had its roof on fire more than 500 years ago. Of course it got a bashing during WWI and again in WWII, the revolution too, for that matter.

Here’s a look inside.

And that’s it for France. I really miss the place and want to go back soon.