Six Days in Siam


Day 6 – Revellers Return


Our time in Thailand has been very hectic, comprising of days full of places to go, things to see, and the complimentary sales opportunities of course. This is the first morning we have not had a schedule to observe and an early start. The meal last night was excellent and a great chill, so this morning we linger and take time to prepare our cases for departure.


As 9am beckons we head down to the third floor restaurant and are surprised to find we are the first there. I have been looking forward to this breakfast ever since we arrived, as they must surly offer international cuisine? The place is pretty empty and looks like it doubles as a lively bar at night. We find the dishes of pre-prepared delights adjacent to the door and both of us grab a plate and head for our culinary tour. This time the servers are heated and properly covered, which is an excellent sign. Unfortunately what they cover is not so good, to the point I think the covers are probably there to hide what is festering inside!


The 20 or so servers contain an intriguing mix of things which are not Chinese specifically, nor western. Instead they look like they are undecided which cooking style they should belong to and sort of sit their somewhere within a no-man’s land between. We both have a look in each pot without immediately putting anything on our plates. Reaching the end of the row, Siu Ying looks at me – and I look back at her. Then closing the lid we look around for anything else that appears to be edible. As Queen Victoria once said “We are not impressed!”


Behind us to the left is a smaller display featuring Tea, Coffee, and the obligatory coconut milk. We take coffee and add sugar and milk powder to our cups – yes, this hotel does actually provide cups and saucers + a tray of teaspoons, how thoughtful. Beside this are some bread containers, the first of which contains croissants – warm and freshly cooked yesterday by the looks of them. I don’t like them at the best of times, and definitely not these things which would be better suited as weapons for use in a Martial Arts tournament. There is no normal bread or toast, so I plum for the buns after checking they are not full of sugar first. They seem ok so I take a couple to be getting on with. Below the breads are some related things, like small tubs of butter, President Camembert cheese, plus lots of jams and marmalade. To the side is a separate table of fresh fruit and fruit juices.


So far I have: a knife, a fork, a teaspoon, a cup with saucer of coffee, savoury buns, butter and French cheese. Beside me Siu Ying has a coffee and a bowl of fruit salad. We return to the covered hot dishes for a second go. I spear a miniature frankfurter only to do the obligatory ‘taste-test’ and discover it was soaked in sugar water, not brine. I put the rest of it in the nearby bin. You know Jim; even the worst Chinese chef’s do not cook Frankfurters in glucose syrup, so yet again you are correct in your assertation that Thailand is as crazy as China – just in a different way!


The next cauldron does not contain slices of Spam. Instead it contains slices of tinned ‘luncheon meat’, which as some readers will know is a rather upper class version of this stalwart dish. You can always differentiate them because luncheon meat has maroon bits hidden within the pink glutinous mass, and Spam does not. This was not fried, but simply heated in water for a few hours. As the sugar content is minimal I take a couple of slices, and then Siu Ying adds a lot more. Thank you dearest one. There is absolutely nothing else here of the slightest interest for me.


Meanwhile Siu Ying is having equally hard decisions to make regarding Chinese breakfast foodstuffs. I point out a decent looking fried rice, but she takes a bowl of plain boiled instead. She has also uncovered a dish of bits of chicken and adds this to her plate. The very last container contains what should probably have been scrambled eggs. I break-off a small piece to be sure, and find no added sugar (Bless) and in fact, nothing else added at all – just eggs of a bright yellow goo. I admit to taking a walkabout before committing, but there is no egg counter anywhere in sight, so scrambled egg slop it is then. I hope they have salt and pepper hidden somewhere?


This is definitely not the standard of breakfast we were expecting, and we are only eating now because it may be a long time until we can eat again. It also gives us something to do whilst we wait for the others, and provides amusement to break the boredom. Up in our room I had been imaging a large plate filled with freshly made toast smeared heftily with runny with butter. To this I was adding large rashers of well cooked streaky bacon (Possibly smoked) and dripping with natural fat. Topping this was my daydream of adding a freshly cooked fried egg that was perfectly runny. Adding a second slice of toast I then bash this in the centre to break the yolk, and picking it up in both fists, drip yolk all over my plate.


Instead I look down at my plate and wonder what exactly I should do with it?


Looking over to Siu Ying she is tucking into her food with appetite. I ask her how it is, and she replies “No good”. Tell me about it! I decide to break the buns in half and add the butter. That done I pile the luncheon meat inside and top it this scrambled egg goo. As an afterthought I add Camembert to one side of the bun also, as it can’t make it any worse and should provide a salt substitute.


We are eating in an area that has tables for either two or four people. It is dimly lit and no staff are in evidence, although the nearby drinks bar and large video screen are currently closed and dead respectively. When all is said and done, this is a pretty incongruous place to be eating breakfast. Others of our group then wander in with little nourishment on their plates. Jackie and Jennifer plus the Panyu girls take adjacent tables, and then someone not of our party goes to the dark end of the room and returns with a couple of fried eggs. This would be in a totally different part of the room from the main eats, and very well hidden away across the railed dance floor.


I am immediately interested so head over in the direction whence he came and find a lectern behind which is a boy playing games on his mobile phone. He is the only staff present and seems startled to see me, but this doesn’t prevent him from continuing his game. How very ignorant - I hope he just lost a life or something.  The lectern hides a hotplate for cooking fried eggs, and there are also a bevy of hard boiled eggs lurking in a champagne bucket hidden from general view beside it. I wish I had known about this before suffering the scrambled egg goo, but I’m about done already. I pick up a couple of hard boiled eggs and head back to the table. Siu Ying is well impressed with me and gives me a peck on the cheek.


I have eaten breakfast in many parts of the world, both in big hotels and wayside shacks. In Greece my favourite was Bacon and Egg pizza of local design, with complimentary Ouzo. In Tunisia it was Egg Bats or something with complimentary black olives. I have enjoyed Champagne and Strawberries for breakfast via room service in central London; and also endured morning French cuisine – something totally missable. However, this has to rate as the very worst offering I have ever eaten anywhere in the world – and because it is supposed to be an international standard 4**** star hotel. Our hunger is stilted, but not satisfied, and we both can’t wait to get out of this poxy wine bar and disco – come breakfast parlour. I am already looking forward to the excellent meal awaiting us courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines!


We return to our room disillusioned by Thai cuisine for Chinese people, and I smoke as there is an already full ashtray provided courtesy of the management. 4*** hotel? Siu Ying then informs me we can stay in Hong Kong tonight, or go home, it is our choice. I try to explain to her that she has a transfer travel dispensation and is definitely not allowed into Hong Kong proper without a formal visa. She tells me I am stupid and know nothing. I say ‘Ok, you get a visa and we can stay – up to you’. This was not the right answer, but is correct as the facts I know about. We are teetering upon the edge of one of our impossible arguments (Difficult when we don’t really have the common language), so I do ‘OK dear’ and wait to see what transpires. Unfortunately I was so preoccupied with the fact that Chinese citizens require a visa to visit Hong Kong; that I failed to grasp the wider implications at that point in time…


The time moves on and a little before 10 o’clock we head down to reception. People are assembling and handing over our room key, we head outside to the smokers area. The sun is warm and a spirit of camaraderie now bonds us together. It appears we all enjoyed last night, including Charlie Chan who is a lot more relaxed than normal. However, he still has to get us to the plane on time, so we haul ourselves and associated baggage to the coach and set to leave. The airport transfer takes less time than I expected, so come 10.30 we are dropped outside the departure lounge and given time for a last fag-break. That was very decent of you Mr Chan, and we appreciate your convenience – well, truth be told, he was smoking as well hahaha!


Bangkok airport is renowned as being modern and one of the best international airports in the whole wide world. It was excellent when we arrived, with both Customs and baggage retrieval being Top Hole. The area was well laid out and attention dedicated to small and important details, like a smoking room and quality toilets with disabled access, before Customs. However, the departure hall reminds me a little too much of Heathrow. I look around for a clock – and there simply is not one anywhere within view. I will make this point again, in the vain hopes that someone reading designs transportation hubs: Airports, Bus Stations, Railway Stations, etcetera all have only one universal common point – people go to them to catch modes of transport that are strictly regulated by the clock. The most important thing any user needs is immediate and very obvious access to a clock, so they know what the time is. I am sorry to relate that Bangkok, like most others of its ilk, is woefully lacking in this respect. That’s a point lost already.


Next we hang around waiting for the check-in to open. This takes about one hour, and is compromised by the lack of seating available (Space being given over to large sale boards advertising things I and many others are not the slightest bit interested in). Another two points lost.


A point is gained back when the check-in opens, and after waiting as a group we are in dedicated hands and soon processed. That was almost as good as Hong Kong, and entirely acceptable. We then make our way down the large hall to Customs. Hello airport designers! I immediately know it is a very bad idea to put the entrance of Customs clearance (Boarding) on the other side of a major pedestrian route that crosses out path immediately in front of where we need to go. Do these designers get paid for being total idiots, or was this designed in kindergarten? There are only two main walkways within this enormous building, and one crosses our immediate and direct path to Customs – Cummon! This is 5 points lost for being totally stupid.


It gets worse…


Passing into the clearance hall I note it is very small (At least by China vs Hong Kong standards) and quite inefficient. It is probably state of the art as compared to modern UK, but I have seen a lot better. The snake of human endeavour is slow moving and expanding rapidly behind us. Good call Charlie Chan/Mrs. Guangzhou. By the time we make the first turn the room is totally full to capacity, which means any others are all outside suffering the cross-traffic.

This hall has about 12 process points which are doubled = 24 channels. One set is dedicated to VIP’s, and lays idle most of the time. Otherwise Thailand has mustered a meagre four Customs officials to process our growing hundreds of escapees. I guess this staff would be commensurate in somewhere like Antarctica, but for the world’s supposed foremost airport and holiday destination, I find it totally appalling. Believe – it takes us 50 minutes to reach the counter, which is helped when the active crew are doubled for a few moments, but only in order to facilitate a shift change. Thai Customs officials are very efficient and do their job very well, I have no complaints there at all – I just wish there were another 20 of them on duty at any one time, as opposed to the effective four in number we were subjected to queuing for. 10 points lot needlessly.


As the clock strikes the hours waiting, I get through and find Siu Ying waiting for me. We head into a large secure compound for personal baggage checks. I usually do these things with my body warmer, as it has one million pockets ideal for stuffing stuff into. However that is back in China, but the several check points are well equipped and staffed by people who know what they are doing. Unlike UK, when your basket is full they give you a numbered board to reclaim on the other side. I think I am done when the girl indicates I should remove my belt. I am expecting the alarms to go off regardless as I pass through the metal scanner doorway, but it doesn’t. The staff then checks my board number before giving me the scanned basket containing my personal valuables. You may wonder why I am labouring this point? Well, when I came out to China from Manchester airport, UK; I put my mobile phone into a basket, and the idiots running the slovenly operation gave it to somebody else. I was given hers. Thanks! It took several security staff about 20 minutes to find the girl, who did have an identical phone to mine. However, it was only when she came to use it and found the contacts wrong that she came back to check-in and reported it = UK security sucks! Therefore I do like Thai security in this respect, although something a little more secure would be ideal. I’ll give this part a couple of plus points as it is well managed and executed by informed and well trained staff – but still not perfect by a long ways.


Once past all the checks and security, Customs etc, this airport changes immediately as would a Chameleon. The supposed duty free (Hahaha) lacks from choices of old, as is now common practice by the international conglomerates that franchise these options. However it is light and airy, well stocked and staffed, and quite a transformation. There are only two problems, one of which concerns whoever made the airport departure lounge maps inside – they are reversed! I mean they are written correctly and everything is fine – except left is actually right.


Once I figured that one out we are captured by Mrs. Guangzhou who was insistent we gather as a group and head off together, passing the main duty free hall en route. OK. To concur on my maps theory, one other couple was also headed in the wrong direction – so this does need attention by Thai Airport management. Minus 3 points, basically for making such a stupid and avoidable error. This would only be one point, but for the fact passengers end up at the opposite end of the terminal from the one they think the map is telling them to go in. Very bad! Another 5 points deducted for being able to miss your flight because of this erroneous and highly prominent information.


Mrs. Guangzhou herds us all to the entrance to hall E, and then says we have to meet back here in 40 minutes. We are released from her leash for a while, and so go ‘look-check-see’. I am mindful to find out where they have hidden the smoking rooms hereabouts, so park Siu Ying at a cosmetics counter with clothes shop adjacent (Aren’t I thoughtful) and head back to the main intersection. There are large signs for toilets, restaurants, shopping and duty free (Separate signs?), departure halls, and Moslem Prayer Rooms. I wander around confused by the repetition, before coming to rest near an escalator. There are four of these set about the interchange, and mine has a sign that faces a large plant that is in turn obscured by a temporary billboard advertising whatever. I move the leaves aside and find a sign stating the smoking rooms are available on isle E, next floor down. Thank You! Minus 50 points for taking the piss.


Unlike Thailand Bangkok airport, I am not authoritarian nor given to disguising important information. I go back to the remainder of the group and tell the Likely Lads the smoke room is down a floor and pointing – in that direction. They thank me greatly, as signing is obviously only in either English or Thai script … if you can find it?


The floor below reminds me of a desolate train station waiting for something to happen. You could probably remake Brief Encounter down here and not need to rope it off for film crews. There are shops and food outlets, more duty free – just in case you missed all the other offerings I guess, toilets, and I find the Moslem Prayer Room. And that is it! No plants or other signs anywhere to hide the directions to the smokers lounge behind = nothing! I walk the deserted corridors before coming back to centre. The only signs of life down here are coming from Royal Thai Airways super-rich plebs palace, so I rock up to the very attractive girl standing outside in traditional Thai dress and ask her where the smoking rooms are. She looks at me with distain and says in excellent English ‘That way’, and nods along the corridor. She adds ‘E1’ before turning and disappearing inside the executive lounge.


It seems adventures abound in this supposed most magnificent of airports, and I am up for the challenge. We still have a couple of hours to kill before our flight, so I’ll happily try to beat their system and find somewhere legal to smoke … It isn’t easy you know!


There is not a sign for E1, instead there are signs either side of the walkway reading E1A to the left, and E1B to the right. I head right as I am on that side, and take an escalator down to the most welcoming departure lounge I have ever witnessed. This place is totally empty of travellers, and totally excellent!


This departure lounge is about 100 yards long by 30 yards wide. It features free internet connection via six terminals, and separate telephones that can be paid for in many ways. There is a large TV screen for showing movies, whilst departure screens list everything and everything in several languages alternately. The seating is pucker, having cushioned seats and backrests, and the whole place is open, free and airy. Toilets are set into the main internal wall and there is a refreshments stall (Closed at the moment) near the check-in desk. At the far end is a smoke room with two door, and a sign that reads “Maximum 8 people smoking”. I enter and immediately note three benches of three seats each = 9 seats. This room is actually larger than most English sitting rooms, and about the same size as my gaff at Rowley Bank. I dare say you could get about 50 people in here, as long as only 8 of them are smoking at any one time.


Unusually for airport lounges, the extractor system is actually switched on and appears to be fully functional = 20 points for attention to detail and servicing. I am going to give this particular departure lounge 100 points, as it is fantastic! However, I am also going to immediately take 30 points back, as I am sure that whilst E1A is very similar, no others in this hall will match this excellent standard … and so it comes to pass.


I am about done when the Likely Lads arrive and thank me for finding this hidden alcove. They offer me a cigarette, and I guess it is only polite to join them. They actually offered me one of my own cigarettes, as I gave them all a packet last night – well, they were suffering USA brands at astronomical prices whilst I had a stack left.


6 minutes later I am smoked-out and leave them too it for a while. I head back up the departure lounge and find there is only a ‘Down’ escalator. ‘Up’ is done using a staircase. I guess I could wander back and use the lift, but seeing I have an apparently unhealthy lifestyle I clamber up the long stairs and get fit in the process. Reaching the top I am surprised to find my wife and Mrs, Guangzhou deep in conversation on the seats nearby. I guess the meeting point has been moved then? They are both pleased to see me for very different reasons, and Siu Ying says she saw some cosmetics and would I care to accompany her. “Well of course my dearest” comes my reply, and we head back down the long corridor to Duty Free.


It becomes apparent she has been searching for ‘Olay’ brand skin cream, and there isn’t any. I glance around, and she is correct. However, they do have L’Oreal, which is probably state of the art for most mortals on this planet. You may or may not be aware that Coco Chanel made her name by offering perfumes that lasted all day and night long – not disappearing or changing fragrance with time. This is why the likes of Chanel Number 5 are still to this day top international sellers. Likewise, L’Oreal is at the forefront of skin products and rejuvenating emoluments. Siu Ying knows the name, but is not sure if it is as good as Olay? International people may also wonder, but Chinese are very naive when it comes to the western world and do tend to stick with what they know and trust. I take her hand and lead her to the display – and then I get confused. There are simply too many skin creams here for me to understand. I think I pick the right one, but the differences appear to be minimal.


Fortunately an experienced sales girl comes by and asks in excellent English if we need help. “Yes please sweetheart!” She then says similar in Mandarin. Siu Ying replies in Mandarin, and soon they get chatting in Cantonese. Wow! That’s three languages within the space of ten seconds, and she doesn’t miss a beat. Siu Ying explains that with cold weather approaching in Guangdong she is looking for a moisturising cream for face and body. The girl immediately selects a jar adjacent to the one I had picked for her, which looks in identical packaging, but is not quite the same technically. I become a bystander and let them get on with it, although I maintain interest and take note. Having quickly decided upon the right product, I check the price – a few hundred Baht (Presumably for kosher product), and tell my wife I will buy her two. She then has the dilemma of getting a second jar, and the salesgirl simply doubles the original purchase, to which I am party. She takes our purchases and processes them for us at the sales counter. I pay by card, which is new to Siu Ying, sign, and we are done. I’m going to give this 25 points, because it was not a main sales outlet, and the service was totally excellent! I should also award more points for our girls excellent language skills.


We return to Mrs. Guangzhou and the group is slowly assembling. I drop my wife off with her and head yet again for the smokers lounge downstairs. This time the place is buzzing and I get the last remaining seat. Unusually people are talking to each other in here, and it is not long before I am included. A Japanese man with Arab and Caucasian ancestry breaks the ice by asking for a light. Apparently he is a teacher of international business. The guy left of me then joins our chatter, and he is Japanese, and so is his friend, who turns out to be a very entertaining person. We skate over chitter-chat, as this is so uncommon in airport smoking lounges, when a young lad enters and takes a pew. We had been talking about football, and whilst I don’t really follow the team or sport very much (I’m intoF1, Cricket and Rugby Union actually) I am saying I support Liverpool, and we have it rough just now. I won’t bore you with the conversation, as it was totally irrelevant. People then extinguish fags and leave, only for the young lad to pick up conversation.


He is Scottish, and on his way to escape life in Cambodia. I like him a lot. He says he doesn’t really follow football either, and would not bother except everybody else wants to talk about it all the time. I agree and we have a good understanding. I won’t tell you about his life, but know he had a rough ride and is looking for a new an honest place to begin again. I’m not quite sure that would be modern Cambodia, but each to his own choice. I offer him a business card with friendship and tell him to call me if he gets stuck. He was a nice lad, and I wish him well in his adventures.


 Have been here a while and it is now time for me to depart. I wish fond farewells to new friends and head out for the terminal at large. It appears I cannot go to my departure lounge directly from here, but must first clamber back up the stairs. Reaching level one I have the idea the others will now be at our departure gate – E5. Therefore it is in this direction I head, and not back up another flight of stairs to the new meeting point. I am correct, and follow the flight crew down to the dedicated departure lounge for our flight. The Co-Pilot apologises for holding me up as he manages his flight-bag down the steps, and I marvel at his superb understanding of English, and by that I mean the culture, not the language (Which is also excellent). I have absolutely no problem and ask him to take his time. He smiles at me. So how come he knew I was British then?


I think seasoned international travellers get very good with working out where a person is actually from, and where their cultural roots lie. In return I know he is from England but of Indian parental origin, but the captain before him is Australian – something I later learn is quite correct. However, this is the first time in my international flying career where I have actually shared the departure lounge with any flight crew, and the most senior at that. I toy with the idea of talking to them, but guess they would rather wait themselves without an idiot interfering with their separate personal space. A herd of Africans then leave the plane via a corridor that is sectioned off, and it is obviously their free-time in Bangkok airport. The plane is being checked and refuelled. Some 15 minutes later the crew board to prepare for the flight ahead.


On my way down the steps I did spot my wife, who made a big play of hiding from me. I do love this girl!  Once reunited we chat and lark about. I take a few photographs, and you will be amazed to learn my camera (aka mobile phone) was actually full of charge and operating under my command only. The waiting is interminable, as our 1.50 timeslot was the Chinese first call. The real call for first-boarding comes around 2.30, and take-off is after 3pm. I have a needless play with one of the three internet access points, and wonder momentarily if I can escape from here to stock up on my carbon monoxide levels, which are dropping precariously low. I glance across at the severely pretty girl that actioned my check-in to this lounge; and whilst I may take her up in a social situation, I doubt very much that this Amazon beauty will have any truck with me wanting to dive off for a cigarette. If only I hadn’t left my Zulu warriors spear back in Blighty all those years ago – but then, you never know when one might come in handy do you? I take a step towards her and she reeks of Grace Jones hormones (One of my all-time top 10 singers + she was a film star and Supermodel - and also a very sensuous woman; but you definitely need to get your mind right first before taking her ilk on). May West is probably the only other to warrant such respect from mere males. Maybe another time and place then, as now my wife is fortuitously calling out to me.


I can just imagine how this would go, bear with me:

J. Excuse me?

G. Huh?

J. Hello!

G. Wadda you want down here?

J. Well, I was hoping I could get out of here and go to the smokers lounge.

G. And what makes you think that is any of my concern?

J. Well, I just thought it would be a nice thing for you to do for me : -)

G. I like to smoke ‘afterwards’ … she purrs as she fixes me with a hungry wolf’s icy glare.

No, I need my mojo in overdrive for to handle this chick.


Moving on we board around 2.40pm and play the same game with our seat allocations. This time I swap with the youngest of the lads, and later he swaps another four times before everybody is with partners or friends for the flight. This will be Siu Ying’s first daylight flight and she is very excited in her window seat. She seems amazed as the ground disappears beneath her and we pass through a cloud layer. “I’m in the sky” she says, and she most certainly is. A short time later she is fascinated to look down on the clouds from above and marvels at their beauty. Sometimes she can glimpse earth of ocean a long way below and this sets her off again.


Our second flight with Ethiopian Airlines is equally as good as the first, with the meal being more or less the same. I have no problem with this as it is well balanced and very tasty. The cabin crew are courteous, attentive, and well drilled. Again I find it very hard to fault them and the particular service they offer. However, this is short haul; so please know my marks for in-flight entertainment are irrelevant for us today. They would be very important were this long-haul.


Dusk falls as we descend into Hong Kong, and as we travel into the coming evening, so the light wanes at alarming speed. We land in darkness and soon taxi to the terminal building. After ten minutes wait we all disembark in orderly fashion and are soon waiting to be processed by Hong Kong Customs officials. The snake of humanity expands behind us as more travellers arrive behind us from different flight. This time I count 20 control points that are staffed, and our processing is conducted quickly and efficiently. We are to meet at baggage claim 4, which is at the other end from where we emerge into the baggage collection hall. Our bags appear on the carousel one minute after we arrive, and I consider that to be totally excellent. Full marks for Hong Kong arrivals!


I have to admit I was wrong!


We are now through Customs and Hong Kong lies open before us. We can stay for the night, or try and get back home. I still am not sure why Chinese Nationals require a visa to enter Hong Kong from China, but do not need one for 72 hours when arriving from Thailand. I have a feeling this could open the doors to some who wish to take advantage of the situation perhaps?


It then becomes apparent that our booking only included transfers up to this point. We can pay another 277 RMB to travel with the group back to Guangzhou = not an option; or we can do our own thing. Siu Ying doesn’t take time to explain this to me very well, which causes a little more confusion before I finally figure it out. Instead she is more concerned with finding suitable transportation to Shenzhen. If that is what we are doing, then I want to book transport that goes to Lo Wu, not anywhere else. She doesn’t consider this to be important, but she should know how large a city Shenzhen is having worked there for 3 years – it’s about 5 million people these days!


After examining options available, which would include direct transfers to Toisan at other times of the day; we settle for catching a private car to Shenzhen somewhere, then need a transfer to take us to the bus station where the 9pm bus direct to Toisan awaits. This is the last bus, and is supplied by the company her brother works for. The time is 7pm when we find a suitable driver service and go to wait nearby at the outdoor pick-up point.


Many of you may have pondered upon the best way of getting from Hong Kong airport to Shenzhen? I know I have, and I have written advice for other travellers also. Hong Kong is not an integrated transport hub, and those international travellers with large and unwieldy suitcases will suffer stress and needless problems because of this. We have the simple answer here!


We booked the private driver from the service lounge on Level 3 and it cost us Y150 RMB. They accepted our Chinese currency with no problem or extra charges, issued tickets, and we waited outside in a slightly underground area for about 10 minutes. They run a fleet of large Toyota SUV’s which can carry 7 adults plus driver in great comfort, with enough stowage area at the back for all our belongings and more. Great choice of vehicle. It was clean, modern, well driven and very professional.


We are headed for Huanggang, the most appalling international border crossing I have ever had the misfortune to use. This time was very different. We stay in the vehicle and exit Hong Kong customs check-out as a group vehicle. The driver then takes us to the Chinese border crossing some miles away – believe! Here we are dropped off right outside the customs hall and proceed inside. Chinese customs clearance is always efficient and friendly, and in no time we are on the other side and back on Chinese Mainland soil. The time is now just turned 8pm.


 I leave the rest entirely to Siu Ying. She hurries off right of the main exit, and near the end of the block she locates the offices of the vehicle company. Apparently we are trying to go to somewhere they do not actually serve, so a little confusion reigns for 5 minutes. I get chatting to one of the other passengers there waiting, a great chap from Canada who is headed for the Shangri-La Hotel. This is right where we need to be, so I tell Siu Ying this is exactly what we want. For information, this hotel stands opposite the main integrated passenger hub at Lo Wu. Another ten minutes pass before our driver arrives and we are soon all aboard and headed for Shangri-La.


We are dropped off outside the front of the hotel around 8.40pm, whilst the others stay aboard to go to the main guest entrance. Siu Ying is in panic mode, as until arriving in Shenzhen she had been unable to contact her brother to say we were coming for the last bus. His unofficial position within the company is Number 2, and so he ensures we will be catered for if we arrive on time. He also tells her off for not informing him we were holidaying in Thailand, as he loves Lao Lin or smelly fruit, and wanted a lot brining back! This is a family thing I keep out of, but wonder how it came to pass?


Then the fun begins, as I slowly discover Siu Ying doesn’t actually know whereabouts the coach station is located within the massive Lo Wu complex. Uh-oh! However we are not headed onto central Lo Wu transport hub, but rather keeping to the road adjacent to the Shangri-La hotel. We find a bus station and head directly into the parking area. I am looking out for the Chinese characters for Toisan (台山) as we check every coach here and find nothing remotely similar. Siu Ying asks several members of staff with no result, before speaking to a local lad who may be a menial worker associated with the operation. He is great and directs us out of the building and down the street. This could be a lesson for you, as Siu Ying was asking where the bus to Toisan was? Seems reasonable doesn’t it. Well not really - you see they did not have a bus going to Toisan, so could only shrug and tell her they didn’t know. Simple when you understand Chinese logic. The information we actually needed was that the bus does not leave from this coach station, which is very similar and useful to us.


So that was 5 minutes wasted, and we are a further 10 minutes down the road also. We head straight on as the road changes into a sidestreet and pass some typical Chinese local shops. Then there is a ticket booth of the sort lottery tickets might be sold from. We have made it with a couple of minutes to spare!


That was a very close call, and open to any of many delays that would have got us here after the bus had left. We don’t buy tickets, but instead head straight through the empty waiting room and find our bus parked close by with engine running – it is the only coach departing, and the place closes as soon as we leave. We attend to calls of nature and chat with the conductress. She then speaks to Dai Lo on the phone and confirms there is no problem with our passage. Siu Ying whispers we should give her a Y20 tip. It appears the transfer is for free then! I remember when UK used to be just like this, but that was a long time ago now, and before everybody became fixated by American work ethos.


I linger by the coach doors smoking a cigarette with the driver when one of the staff rushes up to me and asks me if I will help them with a stranded American. I say “Sure” and head back to the ticket kiosk. The guy doesn’t know why I am there, but seems a nice enough Chappie who is trying to board the coach to Zhongsan. Having explained why I am talking to him he opens up and says he researched this coach on the internet, but now considers things may have altered. I guess so as ours is the last coach for today. I offer assistance not knowing his predicament – hotels required or other options available. He thanks me but says he lives locally in Shenzhen, and wants to catch this particular bus as it is the only one that will drop him in Zhongsan exactly where he needs to be. Cool. He says his Chinese friend is currently on the phone to the girls here and will sort out what he needs to do. Otherwise there is no hurry for his trip and he will stay at home tonight and try again tomorrow, once he has the current information. There is absolutely no need for me to be here, so I apologise for disturbing him, and he says thanks, another person may have been indebted for your timely assistance. I wish him well and head back to our coach.


There is a laid-back atmosphere about this place that is quite welcoming in its own peculiar way. Boarding eventually the coach pulls out around 9.10, and I doubt we will make Toisan before the witching hour is passed. However, Shenzhen traffic is relatively light tonight and we make good progress. After the best part of an hour we pull off to another highway and then he floors the accelerator. Woah there cowboy! It may take a few miles to wind this old Hino beast up, but once it reaches Mach 1 there really is no faster vehicle on this earth! Correction! The old British fighter plane, the English Electric Lightning was similar in many respects, in that it also was capable of perpetual acceleration – until it ran out of fuel of course.


The atrocious main road is eaten up as this missile cruises from crest to crest above temporary road surfaces with gay abandon. ‘Shaken or stirred Sir’ – more like being liquidised! I have no regrets whatsoever and am really enjoying the ride. It reminds me of ‘The Black Hole’ at Alton Towers, one of my favourite rides.


Just after 10pm we make a stop outside Zhongsan and everybody aboard heads for the toilets. I take a fag break by the central passenger door, but am herded back aboard before it is quite done. Excellent all the same. Back on the highway the old Hino takes about 5 miles to reach cruising altitude, but once there sticks like a guided-rocket to the desired trajectory. We actually have to slack off once when cresting a hill – for sure of becoming properly airborne. We pass Gongmuen (Jiang Men) City well before 11 and it would normally take a coach 90 minutes to make Toisan from here. We do it in 40 minutes!


As part of the service, we are dropped off opposite our apartment and are up the 5 storey staircase and home before midnight. That was one hell of a ride! Thankyou.




When I set out to write this I did not envisage scripting the epic it has since turned out to be. I hope you found it interesting and hilarious in places. But we are not quite done yet, because all this was in order to highlight the similarities and differences between Thailand and China, as compared again to the West. Therefore there is a Summary being penned also, which may take a few days to edit and get right. This should be available well before December 2010.


Best wishes, and may your god walk with you