My wife and I very recently celebrated two ‘milestone' birthdays. On the 27th April, I reached the golden age of fifty (Oh, I'm a ‘middle-aged' man now alright) and two weeks later, my wife turned forty (which I told her is officially ‘old' for a Thai woman, but she is of course having none of it)
Rather than buy each other birthday gifts that neither of us truly wanted or fill the house with junk and clutter that we didn't really need, we decided we would treat ourselves to a luxury mini-break - a four-day holiday with no expense spared. The only problem was where?
Our regular Bangkok getaway is a charming, quirky bed and breakfast called The Resort de Paskani. It's a Mediterranean-style guest house in a peaceful beach resort called Khao Takiab, which is a few miles south of Hua Hin. The Paskani's clean and spacious rooms run for about 3,500 baht a night, there's a decent swimming pool, which no other guests seem to use, the staff are cheery and helpful and the breakfast is edible if not exactly memorable.
The B&B is also only fifty metres from a long, deserted beach - ideal for those late evening romantic walks and early morning jogs. We love it there! However, despite the fact it ticks an awful lot of boxes, you would need to be one easily pleased individual to describe Resort de Paskani as the last word in luxury.
No, this time we were in the market for something far better - a bit more upmarket - and dare I say it, a little more expensive?
We thought about going to a neighboring country but slowly and surely, one by one, we crossed them all off a list. Singapore is too hot and always disappoints. Malaysia was too much of an unknown quantity. And my wife has no interest in the likes of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos (and neither do I much for that matter)
The world was our oyster - but there was nowhere for us to go.
We turned our attentions to Thailand. The wife doing the suggesting and yours truly supplying the rebuttals.
How about Phuket? Naaah, never fancied it.
Nice 5-star resort on Koh Samui or Koh Chang? I'm not really an island person and all I can picture is an Olympic-sized swimming pool full of noisy children.
Pattaya? Oh behave.
I know, let's go to Chiang Rai, where we spent our honeymoon ten years ago? Hmmm, well Chiang Rai is lovely but I'm not sure I want to fanny around with airports and low-cost airlines.
How about Khao Yai National Park?
I immediately stopped fiddling around with my smartphone Scrabble app. Khao Yai National Park - just a two-hour drive from Bangkok and a verdant jewel in the crown that is Central Thailand (and other clichés) It was a perfect idea. We'd been several times before and had a smashing time. Only one problem - isn't every accommodation in Khao Yai National Park either under canvas or 200 baht a night bungalows of the crusty, dusty ceiling fan variety?
"No" said my 40-year old wife, "have a look at this place - The Muthi Maya Resort. Lots of Thais rave about it on various travel discussion forums. It looks fantastic"
Quicker than you can say "credit card transaction completed" we'd booked a 200-square metre private villa with panoramic views of the mountains and golf course - along with indoor jacuzzi, two bathrooms, kitchen area with microwave and fresh coffee-maker, international breakfast buffet - oh, and a private swimming pool and sundeck thrown in for good measure. For just under 7,000 baht a night, it felt like they were giving it away.
I'll confess right now - I don't think I'd ever looked forward to a holiday in Thailand quite this much.
Fast forward to our arrival at The Muthi Maya Resort.
We parked the car, grabbed our bags from the boot and then from out of nowhere, a gleaming white golf cart pulled up alongside. The driver - looking dapper in a well-pressed, khaki uniform - flashed a welcome smile and told us he would take us to reception to check-in and then on to our private villa. Hop aboard!
As we trundled along in the golf cart, I squeezed my wife's arm and said "this is going to be such a terrific place. And remember what we said - no expense spared. This is our birthday treat". We were both feeling ridiculously happy.
When we eventually got to the villa and our driver opened the front door, our mouths fell open. I've stayed in some nice hotel joints around the world but this was on another level. We spent a glorious first hour jumping in the pool, flicking through the TV channels on both TVs, figuring out how the jacuzzi and coffee maker worked and being left in awe over the fact that everything in the well-stocked mini-bar was absolutely free.
As evening fell, it became time to seek out somewhere for an evening meal. Muthi Maya had a choice of just one restaurant at the resort, which it describes on its website as an open-air restaurant serving an irresistible fusion of Japanese and Italian cuisine. On a Friday night in early May, it was virtually empty. Restaurant staff outnumbered diners by about five to one. When the menus arrived, it become all too apparent why.
My wife and I looked over the menu and shot each other anxious glances. The dishes and drinks were eye-wateringly expensive. I wondered if we'd been given the wrong menus and the ones we were holding were usually reserved for visiting sheikhs and oil barons. 400 baht for a salad? 450 baht for a spaghetti in tomato sauce? Ok it had a pretentious Italian name but it was still very much a spaghetti in tomato sauce.
You see, it's moments like this when I come down to earth with an almighty bang. I know I said this was going to be a no-expense-spared mini-break but you have to understand one thing - I will always be a working-class lad from Birmingham. I know what it's like to have a weekly scrub with carbolic soap in an old-tin bath in front of the fire. I've carried bottles of milk stout back from the off-licence for Granny Powell. I've delivered newspapers for ten shillings an hour and begged on the streets in the days leading up to Guy Fawke's Night to make enough money to buy fireworks. 400 baht for a salad my arse!
Anyway, I go for a spicy pasta dish (350 baht) my wife orders a Japanese fish with rice (550 baht) We share a 400 baht salad, and we wash it down with two spectacularly ordinary non-alcoholic cocktails, sensibly priced at 200 baht each. And as if we haven't been fleeced enough, there's the double whammy of a 10% service change and 7% government tax. The bill comes to 1,960 baht. I scoop up the 40 baht change and we exit the restaurant, mumbling our thanks to the waitresses and avoiding eye contact as best we can.
Tomorrow would be another day.
As well as the private villas, the golf course and the Japanese / Italian restaurant, The Muthi Maya also boasted a ‘world-class' spa facility (as you would expect) where, and I quote ‘our highly-trained staff will pamper you and leave you feeling more relaxed and nourished than you ever thought possible'
My wife had promised herself a spa treatment and a spa treatment she was going to have. As we rode the shuttle bus over, I couldn't begin to imagine how much the resort would charge for a guava and coconut oil body wrap, when they felt no shame in charging 400b for a f***ing salad.
The spa manager greeted us like long-lost relatives and the list of treatment prices only confirmed my worst fears. Does that list actually say 1,800 baht for a 60-minute foot massage? I blinked hard and re-focused. Yes, there was no getting away from it. A foot massage was almost two thousand baht - for an hour. It worked out at 180 baht a toe.
Now before you people still reading this cry out, ‘oh my God, I only pay 200 baht for two hours to get my feet massaged' let me echo what my wife said, ‘you're paying for the masseur's expertise. You're paying for the environment. You're paying for the cold towels and the hot herbal drinks served to you on a rattan tray'
Convinced? - No, neither am I.
I had to laugh to myself though. The spa offered a ‘mind and body package'. I don't know the exact details, perhaps you were immersed in goat's milk before being thrashed with kaffir lime leaves but apparently the whole four-hour program was the ‘ultimate way to relax'. It was 8,000 baht. How could you possibly be relaxed knowing that you'd have to fork out a week's wages once it was all over?
My wife looked a tad crestfallen as she was led away for her ‘aromatic salt glow' and I decided against having the ‘white tea and grape seed detoxication' It's not that I couldn't afford to have it - but I'm a working class lad from Birmingham.
I decided to hit the fitness room instead. I did ten minutes on the cross-trainer, ten minutes on the stationery bike and then pumped some weights. And you know what the best part was - it was all free. Free! All free I tell you!
On our final two days at the resort, we made our minds up not to patronise the restaurant again. Instead, during the day, we walked around a couple of local minimarts and filled our shopping basket with microwave meals. And that night, as I sat on the sofa eating crab fried rice from a plastic container with a plastic spoon, I felt not an ounce of guilt or shame. It was almost like I had beaten the system.