By Belinda Wilson

Another idea for escaping the Songkran madness is to join an organised trip for either one day or a few to get you out of Pattaya.

Expat clubs such as PILC (Pattaya International Ladies Club) and the various expat clubs around town regularly organise these for their members. For example Pattaya City Expats Club currently have a “Songkran Getaway To Java Land of Natural Beauty and Mysteries” where beautiful mountain landscapes, mysterious and erotic ancient temples are promised. Also visits to workshops of skilled craftsmen and artisans. They include stops at Jakarta, Central Java and Yogyakarta renowned as the center of education, classical Javanese fine art and culture such as batik, dance, drama, music, poetry, and puppet shows.

Of course the beauty of an organised trip is that you have no stress or pressure to check out times, departures, addresses. Don’t get me wrong sometimes the joy of discovering hidden gems in a foreign place can be a great adventure but when time is short and temperatures soaring you long for someone taking care of everything for you and the experience of putting yourself in the capable hands of your trip organiser.

With a minimum of just 4 people you can also consider booking a minibus trip with companies such as “Common Tour and Travel” or at any of the small travel booths around town.

I recently tried such a trip to Chantaburi and can thoroughly recommend the joy of having a pick up from home and drop off at the end of the day so you literally just turning up camera in hand and wait to be entertained.

Of course to fit everything in to a one day trip you are usually talking a more than usually early start – we were collected at 7 a.m. Strangely enough I found this rather fun and reminiscent of the excitement I had as a child going on a family holiday that always (at least in our house) necessitated getting up while it was still dark! However once on board there is nothing to do but relax, no driving or navigating and plenty of room to stretch out for a little extra shut eye if required.

The first stop en route was Rayong to have a look at the fish market. A great opportunity for taking photos and watching the boats come and go with their nets fully laden. They literally bring these nets to shore to be sorted, the fish extracted, cleaned and displayed on the nearby stalls ready for sale –you can’t really get much fresher than that! Although as you can imagine nobody took the opportunity of purchasing any fish with a full day in a mini bus ahead.

We were then back on board with our next stop being the “obligatory temple”. However Wat Kao Su Kim is blessed (sorry pun attack!) with a sweet little funicular for those not wishing to ascend the rather steep and lengthy staircase. At this point I should mention that if you are ever going on such a trip and see that it includes a visit to a temple you should consider carefully what you are wearing as sleeveless tops and generally revealing clothes will mean that you will not be welcomed inside. So best to check with the operator before you go, after all you can always bring something with you on the bus and take it off after the temple visit.

After the temple visit our intrepid group set off for the Sapphire mine, which to be honest was not quite what I expected. The stones are mined using an open cast system that means there is no experience of going under the ground – maybe just as well – although it is amazing to see how precious stones can be gathered relatively close to the surface. You almost feel that your foot could suddenly kick up a large gem as you stroll around the outskirts (alas not on our trip).

Then from the mine we travelled around several fruit and rubber plantations where we saw Durian, Pineapple and Seeraaman (Lychee) being grown up close. Again I was struck by the advantage of going on a trip with a well informed guide – ours was very engaging ,English not at all bad. He told us how the Thai farmers once enjoyed “good old days” where their rubber would raise 100 baht per kilo but now find it only fetches around 30. Life didn’t seem particularly better for those who opted for a crop like pineapples because these take a whole year to grow !

Lunch was traditional, Thai and rather charming and our last stop before heading back to Pattaya was the “Mat Village”. Perhaps something to be wary of with an organised trip is that as “captive audiences” we are often taken to a factory or shop to be relieved of our cash. However on this particular case although there was a small shop on the premises I have to say nobody felt pressured to make a purchase. Those who just wished to see the drying, dying and weaving processes were left in peace to do so and those of us who wanted a souvenir found that there were some really lovely items available for only a 100 or so baht.

A quick stop at a fruit market (where I did take the opportunity of making a couple of purchases) and we were home by 5 pm a lovely and quite fascinating day out.