Destination New Zealand
It was time for myself and Thai fiancé (TF) to have a holiday. Having been in Singapore for six months I could tell she missed the LOS but I really needed something more interesting than the typical holiday I have had in Thailand for the last eight years whilst working there. Driving around seeing the same sights and nowadays putting up with the endless nonsense. I have had some great times on holiday in Thailand but like anywhere you get bored of it. Also I needed a change in climate; sick and tired of sweating my knackers off every day. Nothing as extreme as the UK but a change in season would be nice. Probably would not get a cooler climate in SEA (and sick of people trying to sell me crap everywhere I go) it was time to get the world map out: an item, I discovered, that cannot be found in any Thai school, certainly not in my TF’s school. They have a shocking grasp of geography. After about one minute it was a toss up between Australia and New Zealand. Only been to New Zealand once on the north island so let’s give the south a go.
First task, TF visa. An application form and guidelines that took me a few nights to get to grips with and a fairly intense questionnaire from the NZ embassy on the history of our relationship, source of her money etc etc. I can understand an interrogation for a long term visa or residency, but a two week holiday? Anyway, probably just another example of the terrible reputation the Thais have overseas. Visa was approved in principle but we had to pay for the tickets in advance and get her student's pass extended to cover the return flight date. They really didn’t want her turned away at Singapore immigration and sent back to NZ. In the end visa granted and we are all set to go.
Second task, how to get around? I have avoided package tours, group buses and public transport (except city buses) for most of my life. I am no snob, I just like to get up and go whenever I please and stopover when I want. So I first thought about hiring a car but then after some research on camping facilities in NZ I decided on hiring a camper van. The TF has a Thai driving license for automatic vehicles so I booked a manual camper van. Her driving is absolutely terrifying and I simply couldn’t bear the thought of being in the same vehicle with her driving around sharp corners on mountain roads. I was to find out that it was pretty hairy with my own driving.
Departure at Changi is always a pleasure, unlike Bangkok. No bullshit with the taxi and I am treated like an adult at the airport as I can purchase a beer at any time I want. I had promised TF a new phone for Xmas so she goes to choose one at the duty free shops. Colour and touchscreen were the important criteria. Purchase made and she was over the moon with it. Personally I find the damn things worse than a rash, a real nuisance. I was looking forward to two weeks without it and my laptop, TV etc.
Despite having flown a number of times and watched the on board safety programme the TF still wanted to turn on her mobile during the flight. Thais don’t seem to have any respect for rules and regulations or, more importantly, the safety of others around them. Ten hours of in flight hell (I detest flying) later we touch down in Christchurch. The difference is amazing. From the hustle and bustle of an Asian city to peace, space, fresh air and everything just slows down to what it should be.
The TF was mesmerized throughout the drive from the airport to town. Suburbia! Picture perfect streets and parks with people jogging, cycling, walking their dogs etc. Even I was impressed. By the time we got to the hotel she looked quite confused. When we got to the room she explained that she couldn’t believe that farangs drove taxis, cleaned the streets, worked as waiters/waitresses and typical manual jobs. Is this the impression that the average Thai has of the farang? That we either have very highly paid jobs or are just simply rich because we spend two weeks a year in Thailand and spend money, money that we have probably saved all year for the holiday. Well I know damn well that the villagers from where the TF comes from definitely have that impression. Quite scary.
First shock, NZ taxi fares. 1,100 Baht for a fifteen minute ride to the hotel. We soon learned how to use the buses.
Before picking up the camper van, I decided to educate the TF on the planned tour around the south island. As usual, when presented with a map her brain automatically shuts down. Geography seems to be a difficult issue with most Thais but at least she now admits that she is baffled by maps. The dangerous Thai is the one who grabs the map off you, shares it with his/her friends and give you directions to absolutely nowhere.
Off we go on the tour: Christchurch> Lake Tekapo> Lake Pukaki> Mount Cook> Omarama> Oamaru> Dunedin> Te Anau> Milford Sound> Queenstown> Wanaka> Glaciers> Greymouth> Arthur’s Pass> Akaroa> Christchurch. I had downloaded a two week trip from the internet which included part of the north island as well but simply not possible with the twelve days we had.
Mount Cook is astonishing, breathtaking. The mood soured slightly when TF enquired if it was natural. WTF. No honey they imported thousands of Egyptians to make the mountains. The benefits of a Thai education eh!
Being with an Asian girl in New Zealand gave me a similar feeling to when I visited Australia with my Chinese ex. Nobody was rude or impolite to her but she was never really acknowledged or spoken to unless we started chatting with neighboring campers. Speaking of which, we set up camp in Wanaka and a few hours later a family turned up next to us. The guy, tattooed and with long hair was the sort of person I would never approach in the UK. However, a friendly chap he was and we started chatting. He turned out to be a scaffolder from Hoki. Hard as a coffin nail. We probably had the best night of the holiday with that family, just having a few beers at the campsite. Genuine down to earth people who you could have a good laugh and a joke with. I also had a more stimulating conversation with them than most of the expats I have met over the last decade. I was forced to retire at 1am with ‘wobbly joes’ as they say in NZ.
A while ago one of the readers described how his wife continuously changed the location of things in his house which drove him mad. I have exactly the same problem at home and I can’t for the life of me work out why she moves things around, items that she knows damn well I need to use every day. Well can you imagine not being able to find a single thing in a camper van for two weeks. That was a test of the relationship I can tell you. The three most important items in the camper van are the keys, torch and bottle opener. She was unable to keep all three items in the agreed location. (Side issue – she is no longer allowed to touch the mailbox at home because my bills get stored in the most stupid places resulting in late payments).
The west coast of the island tends to get more rain as we would soon find out. Driving around one corner we saw a guy in the middle of a lake due to a flash flood. Totally stranded and taking on water by the look of it. So in true farang style everyone stops and tries to help him. In true Thai style the TF immediately goes for her camera to record the poor man’s dilemma. I nearly throttled her. Thais don’t seem to have any social etiquette or respect for other people.
The next event was quite exciting. We had to stop behind a long queue on a country road. Everyone was patient and simply parked their car/van, got out and walked to the start of the queue talking to each other to find out what the problem was. Nobody jumped a space or tried to overtake the whole queue. If that happened in Thailand it would have been chaos, there would have been three or four lanes of idiots trying to get to the incident point from each direction which would make the whole situation much worse. After an hour I decided to turn around only to see a flash flood remove a large section of the tarmac road a hundred metres away from us. Apparently one car was caught in the flash flood and was carried into an adjacent field. I found the whole experience thoroughly exciting. The TF thought about the 2012 film and thought we were all going to die. In the influence of TV/film on the Thai mind eh. It was the first time in a long long time that I felt content and happy being surrounded by fellow humans who you knew would help each other out no matter what. I have never had that comfort with Asian people.
One thing that hits you in NZ after a few days is that the sights and scenery have been perfectly preserved and protected. There are no ugly high rise hotels or condos or other nonsensical buildings that destroy the location. I remember beaches in Phuket, Krabi and Samui twelve years ago that were picture perfect but now are not worth a snapshot. Destroyed by greed, corruption and stupidity. There is certainly the demand for more accommodation at the popular/tourist places in NZ. Everywhere we went the motels/cabins were fully booked, but they haven’t destroyed the reason why people want to visit, unlike Thailand.
New Year's eve was approaching fast and we needed some luxury (i.e. hotel) and a place to party. Queenstown here we come. Hotel booked a day in advance, 190 NZ$ per night (minimum two nights) for the last room, ouch. But what a place. I was totally absorbed by the town and so was TF. I could certainly live there. Youngsters out and about getting plastered but there was no trouble. Kiwis seem to be self policing. If someone starts to lose it then they are soon taken care of, even by strangers. Maybe it was just the atmosphere of new years eve but I did notice similar behavior at a rodeo in Omarama that we ended up in, by chance. A few people, clearly drunk, attempted to get into their vehicles only to be dragged out and have their keys thrown behind the bar. Even the police were great. Instead of waiting for people to start driving under the influence then catch them, they were mingling with the crowd in a friendly way which put the message across quite effectively. I have had a few new years eve parties in Thailand and frankly couldn’t wait to get home. I just don’t like being surrounded by drunk Thais, you never know what is going to happen.
I have always found the Thai fascination with children a bit disturbing, even creepy. The TF can’t control herself when it comes to kids and will try to play with any kid she meets. This didn’t go down too well in NZ as it probably wouldn’t in most countries. She couldn’t understand it and felt quite hurt if parents dragged or called their kids away. Why do the Thais go over the top when it comes to young children but then seem to ignore them when they get past five years old? Not “na lak” anymore?
The tour around the south island of New Zealand in a camper van was the best holiday I have had with a girlfriend. Being a country girl she probably took to the camping and the great outdoors with ease which makes a big difference. We both talk about living there now and I’m even developing a four year plan so we can go if we still want to after saving up a bit of cash. Many young Kiwis leave NZ because it is quiet and maybe boring depending upon what you want. In fact I would probably have done the same if I was born there. But after reaching the age of forty I could definitely handle the NZ lifestyle and people. I wouldn’t miss the Asian lifestyle one bit except perhaps for the expat package, but that is the reason we have a financial plan before making the potential move.
Pros – great people, great food, great wine, the best beer, unbelievable scenery, endless outdoor activities. Oh and Kiwi girls are cute (except ‘blondes’, see below).
Cons – inordinate amount of ‘boy-racers’ with big noisy exhausts on crap cars, New Brighton, Greymouth.
Reckon we need a few trips to the UK, Australia and a few more to NZ before cementing our plans. Forget Thailand though, that will just be a yearly trip for the TF if I’m lucky. Been there, seen it and became terribly bored of it.
Last point. I noticed one thing in NZ that is universal regarding women. All girls that have dyed their hair with peroxide are either complete bitches, have a terrible attitude or just about have enough brain cells to control their breathing. I think another Stickmanite commented on this – peroxide rots the brain.
Excellent trip report. I thought you summarised NZ well and the way you weaved your Thai girlfriend's thoughts and actions into it makes it a valid inclusion on this Thailand-centric site.
Isn't it interesting how after just two weeks in the country you would consider moving there. It's good to see that's not a phenomenon exclusive to Thailand.