The Hell journey to reach Beach Paradise

It starts off so easily and optimistically. The painful dental infection has been checked, antibiotics prescribed and the dentist is not concerned about my impending air travel.  Friends and colleagues who claim better knowledge of such things  than any dentist have been telling me that my face will all but explode through pain as the cabin pressure kicks in.

A very quick minicab journey to my very local London City Airport and I should be airborne 90 minutes after leaving the house.

And we would have been airborne had not the runway lights failed, causing a 40 minute delay on  board. It is just one  of the vicissitudes of travel.

Do I see my house as we ascend steeply, elevating, over East London? Maybe, maybe not. The view is cool though, snippets of East London and the Thames as we head towards Southend.

There is plenty of time still to make the next flight at Frankfurt, even though the distance from.the city fleet aircraft terminal is 1.5Km to reach Gate C in the other terminal. Ground services have failed to arrange my  airport  assistance and the staff at Frankfurt International Airport wearing the red “May I help you?” badges fail. Curses on you. I do not know the collective noun for a grinch, but you are all worthy of the title.

Finally, at Gate C, apologies all round and the final short part of the transfer is in a golf cart. Bag Lady expects serious pain to be exacerbated during the flight as a result of this fail.  Frankfurt International will never be a travel option again. The return trip is via Munich, a modern compact airport.

But Lufthansa on board makes up for the Frankfurt Airport nonsense. Their aircrew is always professional, courteous and very human. And all in all, quite a smooth  flight, with a movie diversion from Absolutely Fabulous, total cheese but perfect in-flight entertainment with lots of celebrity cameos, product placement  (how much did Anya Hindmarch  pay for Eddie to carry all those handbags?) and a few laugh out loud moments. 

Masala tea is a post-lunch option, a nice nod from the airline to the flight destination. 


Arrivals duty free reminds us of the destination just in case long flights and time travel have caused memory lapses..

There is then another flight to catch, then a 90km taxi journey. Then a few hours dozing on a sun lounger before sunset strawberry daiquiris 

and then more strawberry daiquiris at dinner in the next village..

Ad  then, a good night’s sleep for Christmas day on the beach


Going home

Most people look at the movie options, but Bag Lady is a map addict for her inflight entertainment, not that she actually finds flying entertaining. She is a nervous flyer – every bump and lump brings the possibility of a huge storm ahead that even a few gins can’t really assuage.

But, the maps provide detail of an unknown world out there, or 40,000 feet down there. Where exactly is Cox’s Bazaar and why is it important enough to be flagged shortly after leaving Bangkok, even though it looks as if it somewhere over the Bay of Bengal. Chittagong, fair enough, but Cox’s Bazaar? Yangon, or Rangoon as it should be called, is flagged, but no mention of Scott’s Bazaar – believe me when I say that it was just about the highlight of Rangoon on a wet Sunday a few months ago. If I was an airline mapper, I’d emphasise Scott’s Bazaar rather than Rangoon. Rangoon did not cut Bag Lady’s mustard.

And the Nicobar Islands, the Ten Degree Channel and the Andaman Sea all sound so exotic when compared to Hayling Island and the English Channel. But I expect Hayling Island may sound exotic if you live in the Nicobars. If you meet any Nicobarians, let’s not disillusion them about Hayling or Canvey Islands. Bag Lady wonders whether Port Blair was named for Tony?

And some music playing too. Rubbish headphones, but too rocky to dive into my bag to get out the Bose NR luxury listening. Barbra Streisand, Encore, very Streisand, and I am loving it, especially ‘At The Ballet’. Bag Lady has always loved ‘A Chorus Line’. Plus Regina Spektor, really pleased to listen to this one and I shall be buying as soon as I get home, if I get home, as it is bumpy and the imagination is running into overdrive. About 15 months ago, someone in Hua Hin was explaining the nuances of the 787 Dreamliner and how it is designed to overcome turbulence, how great it is: not this one. Bumpety bump. Seat belt signs are on, about fifteen minutes too late in my view. 2106 miles to go. Will this one match the storm between Hong Kong and Saigon 15 months ago, the one where overhead lockers flew open and lighter weight items like jackets and plastic carrier bags escaped, reminding Bag Lady of the scene from Speilberg’s Poltergeist where the nursery toys flew around?

Approaching India always gives Bag Lady a glow. It is a favourite place and is the next trip in three weeks time. But this bounce bounce approach over the Bay of Bengal is not giving the glow. At least there is still some gin, almost 7pm at transit destination and therefore a respectable time for gin. Reverse time travel going on here as we left Bangkok at 8pm. Plus a bit of very unacceptable sexism before takeoff – an Omani national, male, did not want to sit next between two western women, one of whom was yours truly. Seething with rage does not begin to explain it. But, I don’t actually want to sit next to such a mysogynistic pig at any point in my life so I was pleased that he swapped seats with a younger chap from Oman, who seems not to be offended by females. But he did say that he was sitting here because the other man did not want to sit next to women. Dark frigging ages. Bag Lady is quite a feisty old bird, but I suppose this moment was salutory in that it has reminded her that her independence and definition is not acceptable to some, or many. Pity the women in Oman, and elsewhere, who have to put up with this subordination. What must the other woman, much younger, have thought of this dark ages throwback passenger?

And we get to India, and the turbulence subsides. I bloody love India, even if I have never heard of Vishakhapatnam, just 56km away. Mother India. Mother India calms the path.

And Bag Lady wonders whether her two bunches of pink orchids and some tropical greenery, bought earlier at Gourmet Market, will survive the journey in their makeshift cardboard packaging, upcycled from a discarded cardboard box from Boots The Chemist at Exchange Tower?

And if the pot of raw Thai honey will have leaked? And how about the specially packaged green veggies and mushrooms from Gourmet Market at EM Quartier? The veggies and mushrooms really deserve to make the journey unscathed as the grocery manager treated their packaging as if the contents were the finest Scotch smoked salmon, rather than 55 bahts worth of veggies. About £1.30. I just hope that a branch of Tesco or Waitrose goes out of their way in return for a foreigner wanting some turnips or potatoes.

And I see Hubli on the map and wonder if it the same Hubli that we travelled through to reach Hampi almost two years ago? I think it must be. It was the place we didn’t get breakfast after an early start at stupid o’clock.

And later, the senior cabin officer, an Omani national, said it is not unusual for Omanis (male) not to want to sit next to western females. He most definitely did not condone it. I guess it is life and reality there. It makes me so grateful that I do not have to live in such a society. And I would never do so.

It’s time for a snooze before the race from one aircraft to another at Muscat, then another sleepier seven hours to Heathrow. Zzzzzz.

Christmas pudding jam

This evening’s invention was Christmas pudding jam. Well, it’s that time of year, the season to be jolly etc.

As usual, there was no recipe, no weighing of ingredients, just some guesswork and instinct. 

Chopped up plums cooked gently with a bit of water until they went mushy.

Then, some granulated sugar stirred in, a large handful of mixed dried fruit thrown in for good measure.

 Boil. Furiously. It will begin to go jammy. Remove from the heat and add a few spoonfuls of rum.

Pour into scrupulously clean and dry jars. seal the lids tightly. 

Clean away the splatters from the hob and surroundings, lick the spoon – yummy – and load up the dishwasher..Consider labels, maybe a Christmassy bow too. 

Resist the urge to drink the rum, and return it to the larder.

Bag Lady travels to Bangkok

The journey here is a bit tough on the old body, but the sun and heat definitely help the bones feel better, escaping from a London November. 

Mainly, it is pool and sunshine time, but a few months since the last visit and a difference in the seasons here means that the sun’s at a different angle and now disappears from the pool at 3.30pm instead of 5pm. Drat; but why should it not have changed here too? The angle has changed markedly in London since September – we may not share a tropical climate in London, but we do share the northern hemisphere. Everything has gone south as we head towards December. My body felt like it was heading south and this is the perfect pick up. Bag lady does not grumble. 

It is a treat and a joy to cross the side street from the hotel and have a beer in the evening, sitting outside too. The bar is beginning to feel like my local. When in Thailand, have a Chang beer.  Oh, I really could live in this sort of weather. 

A gentle trip this morning to the Chatuchak weekend market was productive for a replacement power adaptor – mine mocks me from London. And some little shiny embossed plastic zipped pouches that look as if the should have cost more than 20 baht apiece. That’s just less than 50 pence in sterling. Bag Lady is a quality control freak so tested the zip on each pre-purchase. Excellent too. Holiday fantasy brain thinks that there could be a microbusiness opportunity in importing these and selling them on……

The realisation that Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin starred Dim Sum restaurant, has its Thai outpost in the nearby shopping mall is an inducement to spend an evening or two carbing out on the fish and vegetarian options there.  The queue in Hong Kong two years ago really was too long a wait. 

And the Food Court there looks amazing. We noticed it on the visit here three months ago and were astonished at how cheap the prices seemed, particularly when compared to the likes of Food Republic at the Siam Center or the food court in the basement of the Siam Paragon Mall. I have read subsequently that the owner of the mall in which Pier 21 is situated, Terminal 21, does not charge rent to the food businesses in return for cheap prices which, in turn, encourages footfall into the mall. Now, this man would make a fortune from importing the little plastic pouches into the UK………

Terminal 21 is actually a bit of a hoot. Its theme is that of a fantasy airport terminal, only very light security checking though as you enter the mall, no requirement to take off your shoes or belt. Each floor represents a destination – San Francisco, Istanbul, Rome, Tokyo, London, Paris and the Caribbean. On the London floor, people were queuing to get their photograph taken next to an MDF painted guardsman. It’s all a bit strange, but it actually works. 

Windfall fig jam

I am getting fairly good at this jam making malarkey. Small batches though as who wants ten jars of jam? 

This evening’s quick two jars, more than I was expecting, involved some overhanging figs, heavily laden with fruit. It astonished me that no one had already picked them: to be fair, I only noticed them as I almost slipped on a windfall. The windfall reminded me of a windfall picked off the roadside in Naxos about ten years  – I can almost taste it now, sun ripened and warm from the sunshine. However, I was not going to try an urban windfall on a dark pavement in East London. The dogs had possibly got there first. But I looked up and saw that the overhanging branches were fairly laden for November.

So, tonight involved no recipe. I cooked the chopped figs with a bit of water, then got the potato masher out to break down the skin. I added some chopped walnuts, only a few as that was all I had, finished off some leftover flaked almonds and added as little sugar as I could get away with. I had to add a bit more as it was never going to turn to jam otherwise.

So, a good old stir with a long handled wooden jam spoon, intense heat to bring it to a really high temperature. I used a wok rather than the preserving pan as this was a fairly small amount. A handful of dried cranberries at the end for no other reason than I had noticed them in the larder.

Two jars of rather nice fig jam. And I scraped the wok before it went into the dishwasher.

Bag Lady loses her phone……

You almost couldn’t make this one up. Bag Lady goes to buy a new bag, tries the display model out for size by decanting her bag contents into it. Buys the bag, but gets a pristine new one from the stockroom. Noticing her phone is missing, retraces steps and returns to bag shop. Display bag also now sold.

Fortunately, the bag shop takes customer details and emails the buyer. Bingo. The phone is in the bag.

So, the bag twin will get the random phone collected and the bag company will send it back to a very happy Bag Lady.

Bag Lady loves Anya Hindmarch.

By sheer coincidence, a friend’s photo collection of the West Hollywood Halloween Carnival 2016 begins with the Anya Hindmarch shop there, so I have shamelessly stolen his photo!


Quince paste time of year, in a reasonably adjusted sort of way

Just picked ten minutes ago. Now for some sugar shopping. This will be the first time I have attempted reasonably adjusted quince paste – I will have to sit down to do the pressing through the mesh bit. Let’s see if it’s as good as usual, after a two year gap.

Inle Lake to Bagan on the overnight JJ Express Bus

So, after three nights at the Inle Resort & Spa, unable to leave the hotel because of a knee injury, but grateful for the sunbed that was set up on the jetty to the tiki bar, an amazing view across the lake and red dragonflies, yes scarlet red dragonflies, it’s time to move on. 

The next stop is Bagan. We’re catching the evening JJ Express bus to Bagan, a journey that takes about seven hours or so. 

I’d wanted to buy some of the delicious honey that was served with breakfast. The hotel could not sell me any but thought that I would get some at the supermarket near the bus stop. We wait at the travel agent’s office for the bus and I ask the girls there about buying some honey. They have a conversational grasp of English, but honey is a sticky word to muster. Never fazed, I start acting out a bee to girls at the bus office, flapping my arms and going ‘bzzzzz’. Bingo. Recognition. Problem: they thought I was acting mosquito and wanted mosquito spray before realising that I was after local honey. They ask me to write down the words in their books  – bee, honey and hive (I describe a hive as being a house for a bee, noting that hive sounds like number five). I learn the Burmese word for honey – it sounds a bit like Piaget. 

Then, the  rattly bus. We are travelling on the JJ Express bus. This is the rattliest, shakiest bus on this planet. Across the windscreen it reads ‘thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as in heaven’. As we begin to rattle our way out of town and into some mountains, I do begin to wonder whether this journey will stay on earth or end in heaven. 

The driver’s assistant soon comes round and asks whether we want Shan noodles or Chinese noodles. Vegetarian for me. After less than an hour on the road, we stop at a cafeteria. There are some cottage industries going on in here – in the far corner, about four women are doing the noodles.  A bowl of noodles, hot water/stock, chicken and seasoning. A free bowl for all the bus passengers, all part of the ticket price. 

I cop out and buy a pot noodle, Tom yum flavour, from the shop at the other end. 70 US cents and I make it up to a dollar with three small bags of mango flavoured candy. The shop is so neat and ordered. 

I ask about honey – I say Piaget – they do not understand – I say it again, English style, which means repeating it and saying it louder and, eventually, they understand. The local honey, just two bottles of it, has been decanted into some quarter whisky bottles, US $1.50. I decide against it as I don’t think I’ll get it home in one piece.  And, if truth be known, I’m not sure which gutter the quarter whisky bottle was picked up from. 

I have turned into Pooh Bear in the last day or so, searching for teakwood honey. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I can source some in Bagan or Mandalay.

It is too bumpy to sleep, even when we get to the Highland Road toll road, part of the state highway. 

Along the road, I notice petrol stations. Dozens of them, not far apart either, all within spitting distance of one another. We cross over a railway line – this could very well be the main train track from Mandalay to Rangoon – there must be a train station here as it seems quite busy, lots of neon lit hotels and roadside bars and cafes. 

We go past a lake – there are illuminated golden temples in the water and a quite humungous golden dragon boat. I am totally clueless about where we are, the significance of this lake. I am a bit of an information junkie so, sometimes, it is good for me not to know! 

Another loo break at the Feel Cafeteria, a nighttime roadside market set up in front of it, lots of fruit for sale, huge grapes and dragonfruit, bananas too.

 But, first, to get past the snarling pack of dogs that is having a shouting match with one another, teeth bared. I go into the cafeteria to avoid the dogs – I think I may have fractured my patella and do not want to add a course of post-exposure rabies jabs and immunoglobulin to my woes. The overflow washroom outside the loos is quite surreal, like a washbasin rockery. 

Back to the bus, it cannot be too far now. I did not realise that the bus could get shakier and bouncier. We are almost being thrown around. Serious turbulence here. If this were a plane, I’d be thinking we were all doomed……

Hand dyed and beaded chiffon scarves? 

As we drove into Mandalay, a city set out on a grid system, our taxi driver got a teensy bit lost and we ended up pretty much in the right area but pretty much down the wrong roads.

We drove through a couple of narrow streets, fairly modern houses built right up to the roadside. One caught my eye on the right: there seemed to be a family run cottage industry in the small parking space/courtyard, involving a boy and girl, maybe about ten or eleven, and a middle aged woman, maybe their grandmother or an aunt. It looked as if there was a small scale dyeing bath. There were some long scarf sized panels of chiffon, beaded, over the dye bath. The boy had placed some wooden frames with the beaded chiffon panels pinned in place on the other side of the street. To dry? To advertise them? 

Realistically, they would have dried very quickly in the sun so maybe they were not drying after all. Unless some sort of graduated dying technique was in place. And one of them was lighter in colour. So maybe it was and advertising display.

I should have asked the driver to stop. I do not know what they were. For all I know, they could have been expensive hand beaded work for a swanky international brand. I missed my chance. Sand slipping through my fingers. No cat killed by curiosity here. No second chance.  Damn, damn and damn.

All I need to make my life complete is one of these scarves, but, in the words of the song,  it’s too late now. 

Rangoon to Inle Lake on the JJ Express overnight bus 

It’s time to leave Rangoon (or Yangon, as it is now known) for Inle Lake by an overnight bus, twelve hours bus terminus to terminus. The bus station is manic, sellers everywhere. If I was in the market for children’s clothes, there are women laden with brightly coloured clothes on hangers. People wandering around with plastic baskets, peddling all sorts of wares. There are some fruit stalls – the black grapes are almost the size of golf balls and look delicious, but there is nowhere to wash them. The travel staple, bananas, curiously not for sale. 

I quite fancy a beer to take with me – third day in Burma and no beer thus far: it was Gordon’s gin and tonic last evening. The restaurant the previous evening served no alcohol. The mini market with the beer is about three minutes walk and I am nursing a knee injury so decide this is not such a good idea as I’m not really up for weaving through the crowds and do not want to leave the comparative luxury of the JJ Express (JJ stands for Joyous Journeys) waiting room. The plethora of staff are working hard, selling and confirming tickets, all transactions conducted manually and efficiently, inspecting US dollars for any damage before accepting them, putting large luggage items into areas according to destination, someone making hot very sweet coffee and offering it in paper cups to waiting passengers. The loos are not the worst by a long stretch for Asia either, not award winning, but loo roll and running water for hand washing score well. 

This is the VIP bus. Large seats, a fleece blanket on each seat, foot rests, a bottle of water in the seat pocket and a snack box of a cheese pudding bread (think baked brioche/doughnut, filled with a small dollop of sweet vanilla custard) and a moon cake (think small round thing with artificial red glazed topping). 

The bus terminus is near to the quietish international airport: I see one aircraft land. Small. Propeller. Like all the domestic flights here. No thanks, and hence the bus. 

We leave at 6pm. It’s been chucking it down with rain most of the day and now it’s a dull grey dusk. There will be little to see along the way as night falls sharply here, and early. 

After three hours, state highway I think, the LED interior lights of the bus play a little wake up pattern for those dozing and we pull into a service station for a thirty minute break. We race for the loos, grab some food, or in my case just a beer, a can of icy cold Myanmar beer. First of all, I use it to help cool my knee injury, then glug it down. Divine. Almost as good as the, no doubt authentic, Louis Vuitton Damier Ebene upholstered chairs in the service station. 

We don’t speak a word of the language, it is dark, we don’t know whether the bus will be crossing mountains or travelling along minor roads to reach our destination. We don’t know when the next loo stop will be either. 

We stop a few more times along the way for ten minutes or so at a time. Forget corporate themed service stations of Europe or the 7:11 shops of the rest of Asia. There are plenty of spotlessly clean loos, but a strange assortment of items for sale. Huge bags of onions, anyone? 

The drivers sit out front for a cuppa and a quick fag. I notice that there are cigarette boxes with lighters on each table. You must be able to buy cigarettes individually if that floats your boat. 

We carry on through the black night. There is nothing to see. 

Eventually, dawn breaks and misty hills come into soft misty focus. This looks like imagined Burma. 

The light increases and the hills dip away behind us. We stop at a checkpoint where all foreigners have to pay US $12.50 or 12,500 kyats to enter the Inle Lake area. 

Everyone is half asleep. But it is good for everyone to have been woken up here because in about ten minutes time, it’s the end of the bus journey and a swarm of taxi drivers and boatmen will noisily descend upon the new arrivals to offer their services to reach hotels dotted around the lake. Prices are high. This is a bit of a local cartel and our first experience of feeling like cash cows. Meanwhile, on the other side of the street, young Buddhist monks are walking to their school, serene in their carmine coloured robes, looking at us all, overladen with things we don’t really need.

We get a taxi to Inle Resort and Spa, a nice drive along a country road, lots of agricultural workers in pick up trucks heading out to the fields, bison carts, scooters, bikes, cars, signs pointing to the various hotels along the way. 

We are warmly welcomed and the room is waiting for us. Overlooking a natural pond, set back from the lake. It’s a nice room and a totally relaxing place for the next three days. I do not actually leave the hotel for these three days because of the knee injury so no messing about on a boat for me nor seeing the lakeside villages. 

 But a sun lounger is set up on the jetty and I get a great view over the lake and the hills behind right until sundown. 


And then dinner, garlic herby fish parcels cooked in banana leaf with a cone of steamed rice. It is sublime and quite delicious. The ice cold beer is good too.