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April 18th - April 26th: A mother's eye view, Bangkok, Thailand

The advantage of having a son who loves to travel (the disadvantages being obvious) is that you may get the chance to visit places you'd never otherwise see. 3 years ago, I had l0 days in French Guyana while Cass was working there - overnight camping in dense rainforest, watching giant turtles lay their eggs at dawn on the beach, visiting the Arianne space station, unforgettable highlights of that trip.

This time I was on my way to Bangkok - a decision made at 48 hours notice because Cass - normally on the move - had to stop there to await visas for Laos and Vietnam, and do some publicity for Children With AIDS Charity. No time for my endless pre-holiday lists and preparation - a ticket, a few shots and to my own surprise I was off.

My first visit to the East, and seeing my son for the first time in 6 months - quite a combination! This was to be a visit of contrasts. The first night was spent in the supremely luxurious and understatedly elegant Sukothai Hotel, then it was back to reality in a perfectly adequate hotel on the edge of 'backpacker' territory. Fortunately, in Thai hotels, two people cost the same price as one, so Cass was able to take advantage of air conditioning and a proper bathroom for the week, while I was there!

I was utterly charmed by the Thai people from the first moment - a bride having her wedding lunch at the Sukothai brought her bouquet over and asked to have her photo taken with me, bowing and smiling. The Thai people are most charming - even the market traders, while keen to sell to you, do not make the pressure to buy uncomfortable.

The city itself is a mixture of hustle and bustle, western materialism - copy designer labels, modern buildings, Macdonalds, Pizzahut, for example - and a more spiritual side - the presence of their faith is everywhere - in the many beautiful temples, in large and small colourful shrines which are on every street and even in shops and offices: every taxi driver has a buddha or religious garland hanging from his mirror. The King of Thailand is respected and adored - his picture hangs along the streets, in every home and office, with the National Anthem playing before the film is shown in the cinema.

Our days were spent in part, enjoying the stunning 'tourist' side of Thailand - for example, the awe-inspiring Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha (people from all over Thailand come to see this and photography of the Buddha is not allowed), a ride through the canals of Bangkok and a visit to Wat Pho. Within this temple we saw the reclining Buddha (the second largest in Thailand) and I braved a traditional Thai massage at the School there. It was rather more energetic than the daily massages and facials I was able to enjoy for 2 each just near the hotel.

I was as captivated as Cass by the foodstalls, where for under l for 2, we could enjoy the most delicious freshly cooked noodles, followed by a bag of fresh fruit - papaya, melon, pineapple - from another stall for a further 10 baht. Thanks to Bhidak fromEuro RSCG, we also saw Chatuchak...the weekend market in Bangkok where Thais purchase everything imaginable, and had a Sunday lunch at a Thai restaurant. (Without a backpacker in sight!)

Venturing into backpacker territory, I was astounded by the cyber cafes everywhere, open all night, full of travellers e-mailing friends and (hopefully) their families. I regret to report that I regaled Cass' group of friends with a tale or two of my own travels in Hawaii over 30 years ago, (!) before the days of the internet and ATM machines....they listened politely... What struck me was the great bond that had clearly been struck up between them all in the few days that they had spent together, before they all parted to go in their different directions.

The end of the trip inevitably crept up on me - a cocktail of emotions - delight at glimpsing just a little of Cass' travels, great sadness at parting from him and from this extraordinary city ... but my overwhelming emotion as I left, was enormous pride in his great adventure.

Joannie Gilbert



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