Saturday, January 30, 2010

We sail tonight for Singapore

Our cruise ended back in Singapore Harbor. There, as the boat was coming in, finally we got some rain. Only perhaps half an hour of it, but the kids and I went and did some happy rain dances out in it on the deck, then gathered our things and disembarked.

Sunset at the entrance to Singapore Harbor

Fireworks over Singapore Harbor, also as seen from the ship

and the Fullerton Hotel

Back to our old haunt, the luxurious Fullerton. Sometimes you have to suck it up and deal when you travel. This was not one of those times. Now we were on the top floor on the other side of the hotel from our previous room, overlooking the Marina Bay, the great lit wheel of the Singapore Flyer in the distance. We were gifted two commemorative golden Christmas ornaments in the shape of the Fullerton to hang on our tree when we returned home and a soft knock at our door produced two waiters carting plates of beautiful exotic fruits, glasses and a bottle of wine.

Honestly, had we been so inclined, we could have spent every waking hour at the Fullerton comfortably sloshed. I saw several persons in good dress but unsteady walk while we stayed there. Champagne breakfasts, in-room wine, the afternoon tea which included wines or beers, and then the evening cocktails...good thing we are such models of restraint, or we would have spent all our time in Singapore snoozing.

Plus, we had that great coffee maker which distracted us from such pursuits. Well, mostly.

Thomas settled into the sumptuously deep bedding with an apple after we scientifically tested for springiness:

Thomas and the bed both bore up well.

We had no plans, and decided to go for a ride on the Flyer and then to dinner to have some crab. Just the right level of plan for your last day of vacation, I think.

The Singapore Flyer is, at 165 meters high, the world's largest observation wheel. It takes 30 minutes to rotate slowly up into the sky and then back down again.

You may remember, I am not overly fond of heights.

View of the Singapore Flyer from our balcony

I spent most of the ride firmly seated in the middle of the capsule, alternating between trying not to freak out when, way up in the sky, the kids repeatedly crashed and pushed against the doors that I knew could, theoretically open...we'd come in through them after all, and being irritated with myself for being such a lily-livered namby-pamby milksop sissy wuss.

Bethy looking over the panoramic view and the Fullerton way below

Singapore skyline

As I was looking a little gray, Mike asked me flat out why I'd suggested an experience I knew would make me miserable. Well, the Flyer is what you DO when you're in Singapore, therefore we did it!

Sometimes he asks the silliest questions.

Back on the ground, the capsule doors having done their job and stayed closed when they were supposed to stay closed and opening only when it was time to let us back out (oh, thankyou thankyou thankyou ye Gods of the Flyer for giving us safe passage, we praise thee,) we went in search of some crab.

Pepper crab is the dish you're supposed to eat in Singapore. And we almost ate it. But then we started to order, the only whitefolk among all the Asians happily ingesting seafood and raucously toasting one another in a nicely upscale restaurant, the waitress interrupted, "Pepper crab?" before we'd even gotten the words out.

It's possible we'd already annoyed her by asking for what was bland enough for the kids to eat and probably also by singing the "fish heads" song, though come ON, who wouldn't have with this page on the menu:

and then chortled over the "Live Frogs, minimum 2 frogs " page,

but even so. Who wants to be that predictable? Pepper crab indeed! I quickly asked instead for the chili crab. Ha!

Thomas conked out early. Fortunately, on this side of the earth, they bring the kid's food first and the adult food a bit later, so at least he ate some rice and noodles, and had already had a good time staring google-eyed at the seafood swimming around in a huge wall of tanks with fish, crustacians, octopi, eels, the lot.

Those poor fish could stare out at the customers on one side as they ate their brethren, or they could watch their fellows being cooked in the kitchen on the other side. At this point I can only hope the sealife represented there has no comprehension of such things.

As for our crab, whether it knew its fate or not, it was delicious. A whole crab in a giant puddle of garlicky spicy sauce, full of sweet meat, with bread to mop it up, and since Thomas was snoring quietly we had ample time to linger over it and lick our fingers.

Quite messy. Good times.

A long walk back to the hotel, after deciding not to wait in the seemingly endless line for taxis, arms aching from carrying Thomas who was both heavy and noisily sad, past the huge silver spiky Esplanade building that Singapore locals have affectionately nicknamed "the Durian" and the Merlion, lit up in the darkness. Our vacation was essentially over.

We had an early start the next morning, a taxi to the airport and then flew home on Emirates. I can see why many people refuse to fly any other airline...the in-flight entertainment was truly exceptional. Lots of choices and the flightcams are great, especially as you come into Dubai.

Almost home

My views from my seat. I think if you squint you can almost make out the Burj Khalifa (the tower formerly known as the Burj Dubai) on the righthand side of the screen there as we begin our descent and turn towards the airport.

OK, so just take my word for it. It was cool.

Then, as we flew Emirates, we got to go through their exclusive terminal, wait for it, YES, the world's largest building by floorspace ( more than 370 acres) built for a paltry 4 1/2 billion.

Yeah, it was pretty nice. And considerably less walking than if you fly with another airline which all have to drop their passengers off at Terminals 1 or 2. A bonus for a tired little family, full of wonderful travel memories and more than ready for baths and laundry.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Little miss can't be wrong...

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Never really on my radar as one of the 1001 places to see before you die. I put in very little prep time on researching what we would do in Kuala Lumpur. For one thing, the cruise ship was going to drop us off at Port Klang, far away from the inland city, and we were loathe to trust our fates to taxi drivers, however lovely they might have been. Making sure to get back to the cruise ship before it sails away is something that has worried Mike and me since a day, long ago, in New Orleans. But that's another story entirely.

So we went the brainless route and signed up for an all-around bus tour, complete with big red circle stickers to wear on our chests, in case there was any doubt that we were very temporary vistors and probably suckers too.

What we didn't know was that it was going to be one of the most amusing side trips we would take during our entire vacation. And it was all thanks to this man:

The World's Fussiest Tour Guide. Bar none.

This man was the biggest worrywort I have ever been on a bus with. He took his job very seriously. We spent so much time trying not to laugh at his chickenlike feather fluffing that our faces hurt. He fluttered, he fretted, it was completely hilarious.

Our first stop was the Blue (Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah) Mosque with its four impressive minarets and cobalt blue dome. Our guide might or might not have mentioned that it is the second largest mosque in Southeast Asia. I do know he told us three times where we should stand safely to take the best photographs, gave us highly detailed directions to the toilet repeatedly, and, most importantly, made sure we knew to be back in the bus in ten minutes.

Ten minutes, no more. Seconds add up, a little here, a little there, and before we know it we will be behind schedule and then how can he make sure to take us to all the places we want to go? He is not a miracle worker, we must all be back on time.

He was really working himself up about this. Wow.

Thomas was riveted. You can tell. Also note the fringed swag bus curtains, which went well with our guide.

Dutifully, we came back to the bus at 9 minutes or so to a tense atmosphere: a brawl was on the verge of erupting between some of the passengers. An Indian couple and their child had come back onto the bus and apparently sat down in different seats than they had originally rode out in, one of which was perceived by a Chinese woman as being exclusively hers. Apparently once her bottom had rested in it it bacame her sole property. Accusations were hurled, demands and racial epithets slung. I was waiting for the bee-atch slapping to start.

The Indian father caved and moved to the back of the bus, and in her moment of supposed victory, won through a combination of volume and obnoxiousness, the Chinese woman couldn't resist throwing out one more un-called-for slur on his heritage as he retreated. He sputtered, started to protest, and then in magnificent imitation of Ghandi, took a deep breath and walked away.

She looked so smug I wanted to smack her.

Our next stop was the 6-tiered Thean Hou Temple, which was not only an elaborate tribute to the Goddess of the Sea, but also had a great view of the KL Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers

and, along the side, 2 ponds absolutely stuffed with lots and lots of turtles.

We were well informed by Mr. Fussy as to exactly how many stairs we would have to climb, where the bathrooms were, what was for sale in the gift shops, what time to be back on the bus, what time it was now, and the difference between the two times and why that was important.

We worked at keeping our faces merely polite and interested. It was a good exercise in self-discipline.

Our guide also had good information about the temple, including telling us about the do-it-yourself nubbly pebble foot massage pathway, which Thomas really got into.

Back on the bus, where glaring was still going on. Apparently there had been a dash to see who could get back to claim the seat first, resulting in muttering and looks amongst the passengers, directly involved or not . This was really becoming amusing, though awfully silly. It's a seat for crying out loud, who cares?

But it was a diversion, and interesting to watch play out.

Our guide was demonstrating just how anal-retentive he could be, and though he detailed interesting, mostly numerical facts about the city and its history, he again spent most of his time emphasising what time it was, how we were doing staying on schedule, what we must do to continue to be on schedule. I was happy for him that he'd obviously found his calling.

Downtown and up a hill to our third stop, the Menara KL Tower, which I had read is the best place to view the famous Petronas Twin Towers and all of Kuala Lumpur. Up we went in the elevator, past the headscarved Muslim women, to a grand 360 degree view of the city, storm clouds rolling in and the light amazing.

In the elevator on the way down some Aussie women and one husband were tittering about something that had happened with THAT WOMAN back at the bus. I was dying to ask, but we got to the ground floor too quickly for me to butt in and gather gossip.

Each passenger had been equipped with disposable raincoats in neat plastic packages as the guide worried that it might rain and that if it rained we should put on our raincoats and that if we didn't put on our raincoats if it rained we would get wet, in either case we should take care to not wet the seats with our raingear when we returned to the bus, and that it could rain any time and also warned about what to do if approached by a monkey. Sadly, once again, neither rain nor long-tailed primates materialized, much to our disappointment.

The kids did get to ride ponies at the base of the tower. Hey, why not?

Back on the bus, our guide was working himself into a fit of apoplexy. Apparently complaints had been voiced about the seating issue. Oh, this was getting good. He told us that we must all work together like a little family so that all could enjoy the tour, and that we must not bicker amongst ourselves as it would ruin everything, and that the seats were not assigned but would we now please just stay in the seat we were currently in and not fight any more.

Oh, the poor dear.

He further went on to say that if we had any complaints against him or the bus driver that we must voice them to the company (if the driver drove "like a wild horse", was his example) and he talked and talked until he talked himself out. Sort of. Once he'd vented every possible way to talk about it he went back to telling us more numerical facts, such as how the Petronas Twin Towers were the tallest in the world from 1998 until 2004 at 1,482.6 feet, and are still the tallest twin buildings.

And now the famous Twin Towers with the distinctive skybridge between them. Mr Fussy Guide got all passengers across a busy street without losing any of us, though whether he was on the verge of a stroke or having the time of his life is anyone's guess.

We gazed in awe up at the magnificent silver towers stretching up to the heavens, then were hustled into the shopping centre at the base. We heard exhaustively about what to buy where, and finally escaped to take his advice to eat something before returning to the bus. He was still talking, but we figured once we had the meeting place and time we were good. The something to eat for us involved McDonalds, a shock I know, this one having such delights as a truly spicy chicken leg and thigh for me, cups of corn for the kids, and garlic and plum sauce to go with their chicken nuggets. They also offered a Prosperity Burger. The fries, of course, tasted exactly the same as any others from McD's. Amazing.

I left the kids with Mike and hustled off to Starbucks to buy cute little souvenir demitasse cups with 'Malaysia" and 'Kuala Lumpur' on them. I was cutting it close, and the folks at Starbucks really should have sampled their own wares to hurry up the process a bit. Not truly their fault I was in a hurry, but they couldn't have gone slower if they tried. Then again, it's possible they were trying...I certainly found them so.

As it was, even though I ran, I felt a twinge of real guilt when I was the last one back to the meeting place and our guide was looking a little strained. All sheep found and rounded up, we followed our fretful leader like an obedient flock back to the bus.

On the way I managed to corral the Aussie ladies in possession of the hot news and pressed the details out of them. They showed reluctance, warned that it really wasn't very nice, made us wait for the best impact, and then of course told all:

The Chinese woman had spat upon the Indians when they were getting out of the bus.

No. Oh no she di'nt! Yup. She did.

We all did the wide-eyed isn't it delicious and awful dance and questioned what kind of person would do such a thing in front of not only their child but hers and her husband as well? Obviously an evil person. Or at least a total jerk.

The Aussie husband hee-hawed a laugh and informed us that the best part of it was, the seat the Chinese woman had so self-righteously claimed was originally hers after the Indian man sat in it, was actually not either of theirs, he'd been sitting in it to start.

You have to love the irony there.

Our bus rolled along back to the port, through the rain finally falling now that we were safely in our warm metal transport, streaming down the windows. Our guide made an "I told you so so don't complain that you're hungry" speech for those who had not eaten at the mall, wrapping it up with a request to return the unused raincoats. Then he asked for volunteers to fill out customer feedback forms about the tour. None of the tired passengers raised their hand so he gave us fair warning that he's pick people at random and made good his threat.

As he was walking up the aisle with the paperwork he neared the evil Chinese woman, still wreathed in a poisonous cloud of self satisfaction. On the other side of the aisle and one seat back, I flipped my hand up "I'll take one!" getting him safely past her gauntlet. My ploy was pretty obvious, but who cared? It worked and I certainly didn't care if the Chinese woman realised what I'd done. I'm all for working against the dark forces. And jerks. Every little bit helps.

I gave our guide good marks for consistancy and heck, for pure entertainment value.

Though the traffic was slowing us down, our guide assured us that they knew what they were doing and that we would get back to the ship in time.

Which we did.

I can't say I was surprised.

Monday, January 25, 2010

U can't touch this...

While on the cruise ship, Mike and I decided to take a massage class. I mean, what's not to like about learning something like that?

For Mike it was especially likable, since he got to be the class model, lying facedown on the massage table with his shirt off. First the instructor demonstrated on him and then myself and the other student, an Indian woman, practiced and were corrected and practiced some more while he lay there enjoying our attentions. Not a bad gig if you can get it.

This was a class on Swedish massage, so we learned effleurage (gentle stroking), cupping, petrissage (kneading), traction (pulling), vibration, and tapping (that funky clapping thing you do with your hands together, clopping them down to make a noise along someone's back). Mike ended up all oiled up and snoozy. The other student and I were breaking a sweat by the end from our efforts, and it was a lot harder to get right than I'd imagined. Mostly I felt like an idiot trying to get my hands the right way.

Cruise staff would drift through, stop and stare, some even taking photographs. One asked if we were sure Mike could breathe facedown on the massage table like he was. We assured her that he'd been making smart alecky responses to our comments all along and was obviously fine.

50 minutes into the hour-long class some other passengers showed up and demanded to join the class. So what if the class was nearly done? They had been held up by the line dancing class and were entitled to have what they wanted when they wanted it, everyone else be damned.

This was a good view into the Indian caste system. We'd already seen those from the upper social echelons walk up to staff, snap their fingers in the employees faces, no less, and demand whatever it was they wanted. It had better be done damned quick too. Absolutely no hesitation in acting this way, no courtesy wasted on the little people. Little people are like kleenex. Use and throw away. Not much attention paid to others around you either, for that matter.

Which I thought was a load of hooey. Unless someone is actually on fire or hemorrhaging to death, there's always time to be nice.

However, this time the Maharajas (or in this case, Maharanis, as these were women) were told very firmly by a woman with a power-infusing clipboard to come back to another session. There was some definite huffing and puffing but eventually they stalked away to a deep exhalation of breath by the rest of us, student and staff alike, and we finished uneventfully.

Mike and I liked our instructor so much we scheduled massages in the spa, deciding on the heated stone option, something we'd never tried before. I honestly don't know how they hold those stones without burning their hands. Mike ended up getting his massage from our instructor and ironically also ended up with a nice circular stone-shaped burn on his navel. Whoops.

As I was lying there getting systematically toasted a bit at a time with the hot rocks, I let my mind wander back to the massage I'd had before this one, back in Kanchanaburi. The fabulous, relaxing, absolutely perfect Oriental Kwai Resort was partnered with a place called Suan Nanachaat Spa and we'd wanted to try them out.

We scheduled our visits, trading off parental kid watching duty, and I went first. I'd shamelessly chosen the "relax" spa package of reflexology, scalp massage and herbal hair treatment, followed by a full body oil massage and finally a facial. Hours of indulgence. Disgusting. I was really looking forward to it.

The owner pulled up in his little car; a former college dean from the UK, he had chosen a simpler, quirkier life living in Thailand and seemed to be enjoying it thoroughly. He had amusing anecdotes by the armful about life with the Thai, and I enjoyed the ride.

When we arrived at the spa itself I loved the garden surroundings, the incredible mountain view, and the two story open air Thai style treatment building. I was whisked away to lockers and a bathrobe, my feet washed in a freshly prepared bath of herbs and nubbly kaffir limes, and then guided blissfully up to the main hall where I sat in a soft chair, feet elevated on a poofy cushioned second chair and had my feet and head softly rubbed with fragrant lotions. Too softly, if the truth be known; I had expected the sort of merciless but extremely effective mashing I'd gotten in Chiang Mai, whereas this was more like loving petting one might give an ancient and fragile cat.

While I encouraged more pressure, eventually I gave up the cause as lost and instead revelled in the music and scenery and the scents of the potions mixed just moments before. And it was nice. Perhaps the achy bits weren't getting pressed into oblivion, but on the other hand I wasn't biting my lips to keep from begging for mercy either. This was merely pleasant.

Time flew, and soon I was escorted dreamily to the private massage room. At first everything went as one would expect, and then she had me turn over onto my back. This is par for the course, except that this time she undraped me down to my waist.

Huh. That seemed odd. She wasn't going to rub my...oh, oh dear, she was. Oh no.

I was getting a chest massage and there really was no polite way of getting out of it. I laid there, trying to rationalise. We've all had breast exams. I've nursed my kids in public. It made perfect sense to massage those puppies, they go through a lot, cooped up in a bra all day. I mean, I'd already had my hips and rear end rubbed and survived that, so what was the big deal? Put on my big girl panties and handle it, right?

I kept telling myself this, but it wasn't working. This was just flat out too weird for my Western sensibilities.

She finished, and just when I thought I could relax, damnit, she started to massage my belly.

Now, I am really shy about my stomach. It's just not my favorite part. It could use some gym work to say the least, and getting shaped and kneaded like dough for a loaf of bread was not my idea of a good time. Then she began jiggling and flopping it around like Santa's bowl full of jelly.

The horror. The mortification. The total disbelief. This couldn't be happening.

Like anything else, with continuous breathing in and out, time passed and she moved on, covering me back up and moving on to other areas.

Silent but heartfelt prayer of thanks at this point.

It took the rest of the massage and leaving the room for me to relax again. How sad it that? My last treatment was the facial, the first one I have ever had, which gave it points in the "new experiences" department.

At least I knew to expect the facial. How on earth was I going to explain that other bit to Mike? I decided to ask later if he'd gotten a chest massage. Which it turned out he did as well. He, being Mike, thought the whole thing was pretty funny.

Someday I may think that too. I'm working on it, I'm working on it.

In the meantime, it's a pretty good story, don't you think?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sailing takes me away...

OK, so actually it doesn't.

When I think of going on a cruise, a few images come to mind. Relaxing with a book, gazing out over waters going by and enjoying the capricious sea winds. Sleeping on a small bed, gleefully coming back to check out the latest towel animal lounging on said bed, relaxing, eating more than necessary, sunsets...did I mention relaxing?

Cruising with kids, however, is a whole new ball of wax. Just like everything else once you add kids to the mix. (Childless friends take note.) Even on a vacation cruise there aren't those blissful long days at sea of doing nothing.

Which is a total bummer.

I am really into doing nothing.

Especially in foreign lands.

Fortunately we had planned well. Our little room was near the kid's club babysitting center, the super cool kids' waterslide and the play area, and while it wasn't a second honeymoon, we made do.

Plus, we got to see the ship through their eyes, which is pretty awesome.

Already chock full of Vegas-esque glitz and glamour, the Superstar Virgo was further decorated for the holidays for an over the top eyefull. More restful was the view from our room balcony, here setting out to sea from Singapore Harbor.

We also learned that, along the lines of doing nothing (and being served food, which is another step up in the category of Good Living) we really like assigned seating for dining. We didn't have it during this voyage and instead did a lot of cafeteria-style eating. Since most of the passengers were Asian, (Indian or Far East..we, and the Aussies, were the rare exception,) the majority of the food was Asian as well. Thomas, again, ate a lot of french fries and fruit.

For the more adventurous of us, it was an opportunity to try out cuisines we might not have been exposed to otherwise, and in small portions so we wouldn't have to feel too guilty if we didn't finish eating whatever the heck that stuff was that I put on my plate in a mindless moment of gluttony or curiosity. (Generally both.)

A major highlight for Bethy was going to the "All-Philippino Cast Production of The Little Mermaid." I was kind to Mike and spared him the experience of going, knowing how painful he finds musicals.

Post show party with the cast

I thought it was lovely, fabulous costumes, new songs, elaborate staging, and much closer to Hans Christian Anderson's story than the Disney version. Bethy had huge eyes the entire time, and she and I made sure to sit right up at the very front. Oh, the excitement. She could not get enough, and I ended up buying the soundtrack for her as well. (Santa brought her the t-shirt for Christmas...oh, that wiley Santa. He sure does know stuff.)

A lot of being on the cruise ship was about getting on and off the ship, and waiting in lines. The kids did great. Our kids may need work in some areas, but boy, can they travel.

And, like their Mom, they love those towel animals:


sea turtle

and swans

Either because our kids are cute or because we were kind to our room stewards, we sometimes got two animals a day.


Best of all, I think the kids found it as exciting as we do to go to sleep in your bed in one country and wake up in entirely another. Bethy pulled me aside one day and said, in a confidential tone, 'Mom, I love cruising. I mean, I really, really love it, OK?'

Definitely OK.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What's my age again?

Yes, sometimes I take infantile photographs.

Do you think they sell laxatives?

I'm thinking it's a given.

Thank you for putting up with this.

Monday, January 18, 2010

When Irish eyes are smilin'

Per request, (I didn't post this photo initially as Bethy's face is overexposed), here is Thomas passed out on a bench in an Irish pub in Phuket:

and for good measure:

Yes, that sign does say "Molly Malone's Irish Pub, getting people drunk since 1999." Nicely juxtaposed with the face Bethy is sporting, I think.

Those silly people.

Keeping in mind this is one of the area's upmarket places for the yuppie crowd, now you've gotten the flavor of Patong on the island of Phuket.

Yep. Indulgence on the beach.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

We're going to that one particular harbour...

Our last little piece of Thailand. The third day of the cruise brought us to Phuket.

Now, I was most concerned about how to pronounce Phuket. It turns out it's poo-get...or maybe foo-ket...the books don't agree. I was rather afraid to say anything at all for fear of sounding like Thomas. Our neighbor's maid who comes to babysit now and then is Ethel but Thomas calls her 'Awful'. Attempts to correct him ended up with 'Eff-hole' so we let that one slide back to his original interpretation before it got any worse.

Anyway, 'Patong Beach and Harbor' I can say, and that's where our ship's tender disgorged its passengers. We had no plans. None. We wore swimsuits under our clothes, carried towels and sunscreen and cash and that was the whole plan.

Not a half bad plan if you ask me. Patong used to be a fishing village, but now it is the most popular beach on Phuket. Generally we avoid going to anyplace described as "most popular," but the southern part of the beach wasn't great for sunbathing and therefore still unspoiled and lovely to wander. Huge seashells. You would never know the Tsunami had come through and devastated the area 5 years ago.

Going north to the popular and developed stretch of the beach we were, perhaps, a little put out (though not surprised) that if you wished to sit on one of the countless beach chairs you had to rent it. Mike solved this by purchasing beers from a cheerful Rastafarian, entitling us the right to lounge on the chairs at his beer stand. Ha!

To further tourist up, Bethy had a few beaded braids put into her blond and spraypainted red hair. She agonised over the colors of the beads. Purple and pink were shoo-ins, but the third color was tricky. She finally chose blue to please me. What a kid.

Our kids charmed the locals by using their Thai catchphrases, though I doubt it netted us any discounts. Cruise ship in harbor and looking as pale as we do, there's no pretending to be anything but tourists. Albeit well-behaved ones. I hope.

We avoided jellyfish, most of the hawkers, swam in the warm salty waters, got sand in every crevace, and then wandered the town, looking for lunch, wandering past craft stalls and suit- in-one-day tailors and massage parlors.

Patong Beach is best known for it's nightlife, and there are signs for "drunk people crossing" and other classy sorts of establishments. Thomas fell asleep at Molly Malones Irish Pub during lunch. I snapped a photo of him passed out on the bench, half under the table, on a towel. Should be good for his graduation slide show. The one I took later works too:

Funny kid: he loves to suck on lemons and limes.

Now, where I took this photo was yet another bar. It's starting to sound like we did nothing but drink. It's true that that is one of the major pastimes on Phuket, but let me emphasise that we were there for hours and hours while we played on the beach a lot and walked through street markets and did lots of sightseeing too. We were responsible, honestly.

No, really, it's true!

Oh, never mind.

This bar was interesting -you could tell that once night came the establishment was for getting anything you wanted. We chose it as it was open to the beach and seemed clean. There were vaguely seedy places stacked up one on top of one another all along, but in the daytime at least, this particular place was more wholesome: everybody appeared relaxed and happy.

Plus we could escape pretty easily back to the street if necessary.

The short-shorted low-cut tight t-shirted, long dark-haired Asian staff of girls were far more interested in playing with our kids than seducing customers. (Who can blame them?) They even had a Winnie the Pooh game for Bethy and Thomas, who played happily and enjoyed being fawned over.

I appreciated that even a family with little kids could do fine on Patong Beach. That's the friendliness of the Thai for you. We could, and possibly even should, have escaped to more picturesque parts of the island, but decided laziness and acceptance were the words of the day.

I also laughed at myself that the stretches of beach with the chairs and underdressed tourists (why, oh why do women insist on going topless when it says over and over again in the guidebooks please do not go topless it embarasses the Thais and is completely inappropriate?) held no appeal for my wanted photos of happy kids and fishing boats.

Traditional Thai fishing village, tucked away back from the touristy beach.

While wandering the seller stalls, we had seen several versions of a rainbow dress that was perfect for Bethy. I mean, it could not have been more her. I finally negotiated with a husband and wife for one, which was truly fun. Beginning by being polite, I moved on to being incredulous, then I teased the man and invoked false wrath on his wife's behalf as they "argued" about what price to give us, she pretending to be bullied and he pretending to be tough. Very good cop, bad cop. "Woman power!" I exhorted her, "you are wearing pants too! You are a strong Thai lady!"

End result: 150 Baht, $4.56.

And a rainbow dress that Bethy wore endlessly. Four days later I had to beg her to please wear something else so we could at least wash it.

Sailing away, we watched gray angry looking clouds swirl in and envelop the island, and the advancing lines of a downpour. Once again we'd missed the rain.